The campaign industry’s relationship to Facebook will be tested over the next two weeks as practitioners navigate the botched rollout of the platform’s pre-election ad regulations and then move into a post-election ad ban on the platform.
On Tuesday, digital consultants found themselves scrambling to resolve Facebook outreach issues ranging from paused ads to turned off ads to approved ads that didn’t get the impressions necessary before the deadline, leaving those ads unable to run during the current restriction period.
In many cases, the ads that were suddenly showing as being in violation of Facebook’s rules were ones that had followed all of the platform’s pre-blackout regulations. If ads were submitted before midnight on Monday and had received at least one impression before the deadline, they were supposed to be permitted to run in the period up to Election Day.
In addition, the Trump campaign was able to get a number of new ads running post-Facebook’s deadline, including one that said “Election Day is Today” and another that appeared to be intended as a post-election ad to celebrate a Trump victory. The platform later said it would remove the ads that were in violation of its rules.
For Democratic digital strategists, the frustration was amplified by some Trump ads going live on the platform in violation of Facebook’s rules. And in some cases, it wasn’t just the last-minute ads that were an issue. Julia Rosen of Fireside Campaigns said one of her campaigns was having issues with an ad that started running well ahead of the deadline.
In case you are wondering, no the ads are not back up. And no, Facebook has not told us when things will be fixed.
Oh and it’s not as if this only affects ads that got placed right before the deadline. I’ve got one that’s been live over a week that’s now turned off randomly.
— Julia Rosen (@juliarosen) October 27, 2020
By this morning the problem was beginning to resolve for most campaigns that had ads either paused or removed erroneously, and Facebook reps are telling campaigns it may take most of today to get all of those ads back up and running.
Update re Facebook ad blackout issue: about 50% of the incorrectly disabled ads for @DSPolitical‘s client’s are still dark on Facebook. The other 50% came back online around midnight. We are told Facebook is still working to resolve the remainder of the issues.
— Mark *Wear Your Mask* Jablonowski (@MarkJablonowski) October 28, 2020
As for the post-election Facebook ad ban, the platform is telling campaigns it may only last a week. But digital strategists are skeptical of that timeline, especially in a scenario where a winner can’t be declared in the presidential race for many days following Nov. 3.
At least for campaigns in small-population districts or states, there are tools and tactics to fall back on if their race isn’t decided on Election Day. In fact, Jessica Post, who heads the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), said her group is expecting to be engaged in recounts across the country following Nov. 3 — with many not being resolved until Thanksgiving or later. During a call with reporters on Tuesday, she recommended campaigns simply be ready for that likelihood with the more traditional tools they have at their disposal.
“They should engage their email list for support, be clear on their social media channels that they may be heading to a recount, or the race is too close to call,” she said.
Staffing is also key to a successful recount process, and Post said she’s encouraged campaigns to retain some staff beyond Nov. 3.
“It’s very clear that they need to have someone at the post-election review site,” said Post, whose group raised some $50 million this cycle with an eye toward the coming redistricting fight. “In addition to that, there’s a canvassing of the ballots that they need a staff person at. We’ve been working very closely with our campaigns to make sure those plans” are in place.
While Post said the ad blackout after the election isn’t ideal, she’s still confident her campaigns will have other avenues to fundraise and message to supporters: “We are not worried about the Facebook ad blackout going into a post-election period when you need to reengage with the core supporters.”