Facebook's Disclaimer for Ads Related to Politics or Issues of National Importance

It has been a while since I’ve posted a blog. Ultimately, that’s a good thing because it means I’ve been busy with work. BUT I have infinite wisdom to impart (ok finite wisdom), so my goal is to post more regularly. Fingers crossed.

As I’ve been working on projects for clients, a few Facebook-specific updates have come to my attention, and I figured I would start sharing this kind of thing more often in case you haven’t seen/implemented these changes yet. Facebook can be sneaky about integrating changes behind the scenes.

You may not think this Facebook mandate applies to you, but I encourage you to read on as that may not be the case.

Disclaimer for Ads Related to Politics or Issues of National Importance

What it is in Facebook terms: How FB’s Disclaimer Works

Insert major eye roll. This isn’t that new, it actually rolled out early last year, but I don’t think a lot of people have heard of it or come across it yet. Here’s the gist. In an attempt to provide more transparency on who is behind ads dealing with certain subject matter, Facebook has put this disclaimer requirement in place. Any ads deemed to deal with certain sensitive subject matter will have limited placement (about half of the ad placements available) as well as a message across the top of their ad that states, “Paid for by XYZ company”. Yep, just like the disclaimer required on my favorite political ad of all time.

What is considered to be a political or national issue of importance? Here’s a not-at-all-vague list.

  • abortion

  • budget

  • civil rights

  • crime

  • economy

  • education

  • energy

  • environment

  • foreign policy

  • government reform

  • guns

  • health

  • immigration

  • infrastructure

  • military

  • poverty

  • social security

  • taxes

  • terrorism

  • values

While the idea behind this move is admirable, there are a few problems with the implementation.

  1. As someone who runs ads for clients whose ads sometimes fall into one of these categories, I had to become approved to run these types of ads. This process was pretty invasive and required me to provide a lot of personal information including a copy of my driver’s license, my social security number and address. Even though Facebook is known for its dedication to protecting its users’ personal information (LOL), I was hesitant. I even took extra precautions to ensure it wasn’t a scam because it all seemed a bit suspect. In the end, I did it because my hands were tied.

  2. That brings me to another issue. Some of these categories and what they encompass are extremely broad. Values, health and environment are especially vague when you consider what all they could potentially include. Health could cover anything from fitness and diet to health insurance reform to low-income coverage medical care and everything in between. I think we can all agree that transparency behind major issues is desired, but slapping a disclaimer on a local gym’s ad encouraging “healthier living” is overkill.

    Now you may say, but wait –– surely there’s some sort of review process in place that will comb through these ads and determine which ones need the disclaimer. Well, you’d be right! (Kind of. Actually, I was just trying to be nice. You’re not right). There is an algorithm in place to review these ads and decide which ones need the disclaimer, but there are several instances where ads that obviously don’t fall under this umbrella have been disapproved. You can resubmit it for review once you add your disclaimer, but remember that super annoying process you have to go through? Yeah, that doesn’t happen overnight. If you have been humming along running ads and all of the sudden your ad for a limited-time special on your business’s trademarked Go Green cucumber smoothie gets disapproved one day prior to the beginning of your week-long campaign, you’re in a bit of a pickle. (Disproportionately proud of myself for that joke.)

    There are several anecdotes across the internet of small businesses who have been hit with the disclaimer mistakenly including dog shelters and even a hair salon. Because the algorithm isn’t perfect, these kinds of mistakes are going to occur –– sometimes to the detriment of small businesses.

  3. Let’s not forget that you’re essentially penalized for running these types of ads as well. AKA you can bet you’ll pay more for these ads since you have a limited number of placement options. Out of 21 placements, these ads will run on half. Doesn’t seem very fair for a smoothie company that’s just trying to sell a green smoothie. (Although, anyone trying to sell me a smoothie with cucumbers and kale in it probably DOES deserve some sort of punishment…)

  4. Your ad might not immediately be flagged by Facebook as an ad that needs this disclaimer. Sometimes your ad will run for days or even weeks before Facebook retroactively decides that you should have the disclaimer. This means they stop running your ad until you a. revise it or b. add the disclaimer. If you happen to be away from your computer, this could mean you have no traffic to your website and no sales happening. That’s huge for some business who depend on getting traffic to their e-commerce stores day in and day out. You can request a review if you think that you’ve been flagged incorrectly, but you’ll likely just receive an auto-response telling you that your ad meets the criteria for the disclaimer. (This is what I’ve experienced anyway.)

  5. How effective is it really? I know a lot of this comes from election-meddling by the you-know-whos. But if they’re savvy enough to run manipulative ads that possibly changed the course of an election, then they’re probably smart enough to create companies and entities that appear to be legitimate sources of information. Just an observation, but I don’t think they care much about rules and regulations.

I think this policy comes from a place of good intentions, but as it stands, there’s too much left to chance that negatively impacts advertisers. Has anyone else had any experience with this new-ish disclaimer? If so, do you find that it affects your reach/cost of your ads? Overall, do you think the hassle is worth the transparency it provides? I’d love to hear your thoughts!