Why Facebook’s Blocking of New Political Ads May Fall Short

Because France’s election silence laws also ban campaign news in the 48 hours before people vote, most French news outlets did not cover the hacked emails. While Facebook removed attempts by Russian hackers to post the emails, blogs picked up other articles about the emails and then published posts about them on the social network. Many people also posted about what they had read.

Mathias Vermeulen, the public policy director at a new data rights agency called AWO in Brussels, said election silence laws also hadn’t covered social media in several European countries, so groups had been able to target voters with campaign content and political ads. While Facebook could have voluntarily adhered to those laws, it didn’t.

“Political ads have flourished,” he said.

The number of political ads on Facebook has increased significantly ahead of November’s election. And since the company does not plan to take down older ads, users are likely to continue seeing many of those circulate.

Here’s how much political advertising has already spiked: In the week before Labor Day in 2018, 76,500 political ads were created on Facebook, according to Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University’s Online Political Transparency Project. (Since 2018, Ms. Edelson has used Facebook’s ad library, a public database of all ads on the platform, to build her own repository of U.S. online political advertising.)

This year, in the week before Sept. 1, 118,239 political ads were created on Facebook, a 54 percent increase, Ms. Edelson found.

When Facebook bars new political ads from its site on Oct. 27, politicians will still be able to adjust the amount of money they spend on their existing ads and continue targeting people with those ads. Candidates may simply ensure that more of their ads are running well before the Oct. 27 cutoff, Ms. Edelson said.

Facebook may use the ad block period to more closely scrutinize the ads that are already running on the social network, Ms. Edelson said. But campaigns would not be able to use ads to capitalize on a last-minute scandal after Oct. 27.

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