Election 2020

Facebook’s botched election ad ban already blocked preapproved ads, including Biden’s

The company stopped ads that had already been approved and paid for from running, sparking outrage among political campaigns.

Joe Biden

Some political ads, which were already running on Facebook, ended up getting blocked as part of the company's new ban, which the company attributed to "data lags."

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Facebook's ban on all new political and social issue ads leading up to the U.S. election is already causing chaos. On Tuesday, the company began prohibiting all new ads related to politics and social issues from running on the platform, instantly prompting an outcry from political groups who said some of their ads which were already running on the platform ended up getting blocked too. That included ads from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign, according to a source familiar with the situation.

"Facebook: Trust us, we will be able to execute our silly, performative preelection hoop-jumping exercise 100% effectively," Biden's digital director tweeted shortly after the ad ban went into effect. "Also Facebook: [immediately breaks within seconds of launching the silly, performative preelection hoop-jumping exercise]."

According to a message sent by a Facebook representative to progressive advertisers, which was reviewed by Protocol, the company attributed the issue to "data lags."

"On October 27 at 12:01AM PT, we started pausing ads about social issues, elections or politics in the U.S. without impressions to begin the restriction period. We are aware that a subset of ads may show as paused that delivered impressions before 12:01 AM PT," the message read. "Once an ad has been actioned (e.g. paused, stopped - whether by Facebook or by the advertiser) it can take a few hours to reflect in our system correctly. Any ads that met the criteria to run during the final campaign will be eligible to run once we've resolved any data lags. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Asked for comment, Facebook directed Protocol to a tweet from its head of product management Rob Leathern. "We're investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns," Leathern wrote, several hours after this story originally published. "We're working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.

On Tuesday morning, Mark Jablonowski, managing partner of the digital targeting firm DSPolitical, said he noticed ads that had been running on behalf of a range of his Democratic campaign clients were suddenly blocked. Jablonowski reached out to Facebook, but as of the early afternoon, hadn't received any response. President Trump's digital director Gary Coby didn't respond to a question about whether the Trump campaign's ads had been affected.

Chris Herbert, who runs Facebook ads for the group Defending Democracy Together, said 75 percent of his ads were blocked on Tuesday, despite the fact that they were running before the cutoff. Herbert said the issue had been mostly resolved by Tuesday afternoon, but that a handful of ads are still disabled.

It wasn't just political organizations lashing out at Facebook. Don Haas, director of teacher programs at the Museum of the Earth in upstate New York, said ads for the museum's upcoming climate change exhibit were also blocked. Those ads were not previously running, but Haas said he and his team were unaware that they would be impacted by Facebook's ad ban, which it announced earlier this month. "It's incredibly frustrating for many reasons that Facebook is blocking these ads," Haas said.

Not everyone was taken by surprise by the ban, though. Digital advertisers working on political campaigns had been preparing for Facebook's new policy for weeks, ensuring that they had all of their ads submitted, paid for and approved before the company's deadline. "Orgs & campaigns worked to rethink election week strategies and got all ads in by midnight (a lot by Friday of last week just to be sure FB would approve). This morning, orgs and campaigns woke up to a bunch of disapproved ads that Facebook said would be fine. BIG YIKES," Hector Sigala, who served as Bernie Sanders' 2016 digital media director, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "I get it, it's tech and buggy and things break. But don't roll out such huge changes to your platform, 7 days before E-Day, impacting $millions in investment aimed at turning out voters when so much is at stake without ensuring it is 10000000% going to work."

Facebook announced the ban in hopes of preventing misinformation about the election results from spreading through ads. The company previously said it expects the ban on new ads to last at least through election week, but said that was subject to change.

Update: This story was updated at 2:24 p.m. PT to include a comment from Facebook.

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