An update published yesterday by Scott Spencer, Vice President for Product Management at Google Ads, stated Google will be “taking a new approach to targeting election ads”.
This makes Google the latest of a string of companies to have clarified or revised their position on political adverts. Facebook insisted several weeks ago that it would not vet or fact-check political ads hosted on its platform.
Snapchat has claimed that all advertising will be subject to review. Twitter however, took a more heavy-handed approach by deciding to block all political advertising, beginning today.
Scott Spencer from Google Ads stated:
“Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms.
So we’re making a few changes to how we handle political ads on our platforms globally. Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide.”
He then went on to clarify:
“We’re limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: age, gender, and general location (postal code level). Political advertisers can, of course, continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy.
This will align our approach to election ads with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and print, and result in election ads being more widely seen and available for public discussion. (Of course, some media, like direct mail, continues to be targeted more granularly.)
It will take some time to implement these changes, and we will begin enforcing the new approach in the UK within a week (ahead of the General Election), in the EU by the end of the year, and in the rest of the world starting on January 6, 2020.”
Google feels it can do more to raise the transparency of election ads.
The firm insists its services, consisting of search ads, YouTube ads and display ads, haven’t granularly targeted users. Although, it feels it can do more to raise the transparency of election ads.
Spencer then went on to address that fact that Google’s ads policies apply to everyone:
“Whether you’re running for office or selling office furniture, we apply the same ads policies to everyone; there are no carve-outs. It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim—whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died”.
“Of course, we recognize that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation,” Spencer continued.
“So, we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited – but we will continue to do so for clear violations.”
As for other digital companies involved in this debate, Twitter’s political ad ban will go into effect at the end of the week. It was a controversial decision and is in direct contrast to Facebook’s political advertising policy, which allows politicians to run political ads, even if they contain false or misleading information.
So what does Twitter define as political?
It will be banning ads that “advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance”. This is with the exception of voter registration ads.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gives freedom of expression as the fundamental reason why Facebook allows all political ads. However they have since backtracked on this a little, suggesting that it is being looked into.
On the whole these changes won’t effect the majority of Google advertisers. However, it does pay to be aware that these companies are becoming more conscious of the power of their influence. They seem to recognise the need to crack down on misleading and false claims.