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  • MaryGrace Lerin

Facebook Loosens Social Issues Ads Policy, Enabling Product-Focused Ads to Run Without a Disclaimer

Facebook has released an update to its social issues ad policy that would largely loosen the social issues qualification, allowing more advertisements to run without the 'paid for by' disclaimer.

In the aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential Election, Facebook imposed a slew of new limits and parameters on political and issue-based advertising in order to increase transparency about who's paying and pushing efforts to sway public opinion.

The need that all advertisers who want to run political or issue ads be verified is a fundamental part of this.

According to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta:

“To get verified, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location. Any advertiser who doesn't pass will be prohibited from running political or issue ads. We will also label them and advertisers will have to show you who paid for them.”

As a result, any Facebook ad linked to a social problem now requires both authentication and a 'paid for by' disclaimer remark, which users may click to learn more about the firm or organization behind the campaign.

Facebook, on the other hand, appears to be easing up on this:

“Because the primary purpose of some of these ads is not to engage in advocacy, we're changing the way we approach a subset of them. Advertisers will no longer be required to complete the authorization process or include a “Paid for by” disclaimer to run if we determine an ad includes the below three criteria:

  1. A product or service is prominently shown in use or named or referenced in the ad;

  2. The primary purpose of the ad is to sell a product or promote a service, even if the ad content includes advocacy for a social issue; and

  3. The ad content contains a call-to-action to purchase or use the product or service.”

As such, if an advertisement is related to a social issue but is directly selling a product rather than relating back to advocacy, it will no longer be subject to the same regulations.

To demonstrate the change, Facebook has supplied a few examples:

“No longer a social issue ad: “Our new show, “Our Only Future,” on how we can tackle climate change will premiere next month in your city. Purchase your early-bird tickets now for €10.”

Facebook says that because this ad promotes a product, and doesn’t advocate for a social issue specifically, this would no longer require authorization and the ‘paid for by’ disclaimer.

Social issue ad: “Our leather patches just arrived. Each patch is embroidered with ‘Support refugees.’ Shop now!”

On the other hand, even though this example promotes a product, it indicates social issue advocacy messaging, necessitating the use of a disclaimer.

It's probably more difficult to determine how the same process applies to, for example, an image of a product which does not include the specifics in the text, but each ad is subject to scrutiny, and the basic idea here is that brands can increase awareness of social issue-related products and services as long as the ad doesn't explicitly advocate for action or support. If it does, they can still display the advertisement, but they'll have to go through the authorization process.

Even so, it appears to be a little perplexing. According to my interpretation of the three requirements listed above, this last example should not be designated as an issues ad because its main promotional CTA is a product.

There's bound to be some uncertainty, but the essence is that Facebook – or Meta – wants to make it easier for more businesses to run advertisements by removing the burden of going through the more stringent measures to promote products that are indirectly tied to social issues.

Somehow, it appears to be a bit inconsistent and vulnerable to exploitation, but the Facebook ads team will be in charge of enforcement, which should hopefully restrict any possible gray areas or misuse.

I wouldn't count on it, though. Would it be possible to slip through the newly developed gaps in this policy if, for instance, I sell t-shirts that read "climate change is a hoax," but I don't include it in the caption text, and the ad is for a product? What if I work for the oil and gas lobby? Wouldn't that be a crucial disclaimer for transparency?

In any case, the regulation has been amended, which means that affected advertisers and organizations will have to take into account new factors.

More information on Facebook's policy on social issues ads may be found here.

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