News publishers recoil at Facebook’s new political advertising rules

Facebook's new political advertising rules have been slammed by US publishers

New Facebook rules requiring publishers’ ads for their political stories to carry a disclaimer risk “dangerously blurring the line between real reporting and propaganda,” according to the News Media Alliance.

The trade body, which represents 2,000 US news organisations including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, has written to the social media giant calling on it to rethink its plan “to group quality publishers alongside political advocacy”.

Under plans announced last week and due to be introduced on Tuesday (22 May), any Facebook ad considered political – including messaging related to poverty, immigration and terrorism – will need to include a label explaining who paid for it.

And as it stands, publishers’ paid posts promoting their own content will be deemed political in nature.

Their ads will then be logged alongside candidate campaigns and issue-based advertising in a publicly viewable archive disclosing the amount of money spent on each one and the demographic they reached.

The News Media Alliance has criticised the plans for being too broad and failing to make a distinction between legitimate publishers’ political coverage and political advocacy campaigns promoting a specific agenda.

“Newsgathering and reporting about politics is not the same thing as advocacy or politics,” said its president and chief executive David Chavern. “By lumping journalism and issue advocacy together, Facebook is dangerously blurring the line between real reporting and propaganda, and threatening to undermine journalism’s ability to play its critical role in society as the fourth estate.”

The Alliance is calling on Facebook to exempt sponsored posts by publishers from its ad archiving and labelling process – or to label and archive news separately from politics and advocacy.

Acknowledging the concerns, Facebook’s head of news and partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal: “We recognize that news stories about politics are different and we are working with publishers to develop the right approach.”

The initiative is part of Facebook's efforts to combat concerns that shady political advertising could be endangering the democratic process.

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