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The Technology 202: Facebook's ad freeze starts today, forcing campaigns to consider digital alternatives

with Tonya Riley

Facebook’s controversial freeze on political ads starts today. 

The company won’t accept any new political or issue ads in the final week before Election Day, as part of its broader efforts to limit misinformation. Politicians will be able to continue running ads that they previously purchased until the polls close next week, when the company will temporarily halt all political ads on its service. 

The unprecedented measures spurred campaigns to rush to buy up ads to make their closing statements. 

“Campaigns had a very hard deadline,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. 

Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that works with left-leaning down-ballot campaigns, said it's currently running ads for more than 50 campaigns. It submitted all Facebook ads early to ensure they had time to appeal any that were rejected by the social network. 

“We actually submitted all of our creative a week ago,” said Jessica Alter, the co-founder of Tech for Campaigns. “We've been ready for a while.” 

The move is forcing campaigns to think about alternative digital strategies. 

Facebook was one of the cheapest and most effective channels for candidates especially in local races to ensure their messages reached voters. The Facebook ad restrictions make alternative outreach, such as text messages and emails, even more important in the final stretch.

The new rules particularly have implications for campaigns during an election in a pandemic, where in-person campaigning like door-knocking and large events are limited due to the coronavirus

It could also be a boon for other tech companies that will continue to accept ads this week. Google, which owns YouTube, is still accepting ads through Election Day. but the company will also ban ads after the polls close, in anticipation that the results might take longer to come in this year, my colleague Rachel Lerman reports.

“This year a lot more people are texting and using Google as a backup,” Alter said. 

Yet strategists warn that there's limited inventory on YouTube in the final days before the election, and it could force strapped campaigns to seek out advertising alternatives with less transparency measures in place such as display ads that don't require as rigorous disclosures as Facebook. 

“Campaigns are really limited on where they can get eyeballs,” said Wilson. 

The presidential campaigns have been spending heavily on Facebook. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spent more than $8 million on Facebook ads in the week ending Oct. 24, and President Trump spent $5.6 million in the same period, according to the social network’s ad database. 

Campaigns with deeper pockets are experimenting with new ways of getting their final messages out to voters. The Biden campaign, for instance, has formed partnerships with popular social media influencers. The campaign has also teamed up with users on TikTok and opened a virtual field office in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” a game that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. 

Digital strategists say there are trade-offs with Facebook’s policy — and it’s unclear whether it will have a significant impact on problematic content on the service. 

They warn that the company’s policies could negatively affect candidates in local races, especially challengers who do not have a wide following on social media. Alter warned it disproportionately impacts the campaigns that she works with, who can’t necessarily afford advertising alternatives such as television spots. 

Many politicians at the national level already enjoy large followings on Facebook and Twitter, and they could still share misinformation or misleading claims through traditional organic content. 

Alter called the ad freeze “a half measure that I'm not sure solves any major problems.” 

“It’s not totally clear what the benefit of the freeze is,” she said. She said she thinks it will help Facebook not have to scramble to review a rush of ads in the final days of the election. 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company adopted this policy because “in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims.” Yet Americans are voting early in droves, with 62 million people already casting ballots. 

Strategists questioned the company’s ability to enforce the rules.

“We've seen in the past they have a very difficult time enforcing their own policies,” Wilson said. 

The policy could add to Facebook’s political headaches. 

Both political parties have taken issue with Facebok's content moderation policies, but they continue to see the company as an essential advertising platform in a heated election year. Recent spending in the presidential race underscores that. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spent more than $8 million on Facebook ads in the week ending Oct. 24, and President Trump spent $5.6 million in the same period, according to the social network’s ad database. 

This new policy is poised to become a lightning rod with conservatives who view the ban as an overreach that could impact their ability to reach voters. 

“With projections that 160 million Americans will cast their ballots in this year’s election, Facebook’s political advocacy is now preventing up to 100 million Americans who have yet to vote from learning the facts about one of the candidates running for president,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager. “This is election interference at the hands of the Silicon Valley Mafia, and it is dangerous for our democracy.”

Zuckerberg is likely to face questions about the policy when he testifies in front of the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow. The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment about the ban. 

Our top tabs

Twitter launched new reminders cautioning users to be wary of misinformation leading up to the election.

The notifications include warnings on misleading information about voting by mail, Rachel Lerman reports

“These prompts will alert people that they may encounter misinformation, and provide them with credible, factual information on the subject,” Twitter spokesman Nicholas Pacilio said.

Twitter has struggled with misinformation about mail-in voting, including repeated tweets from Trump suggesting the practice is tied to fraud. 

Twitter labeled a tweet from the president yesterday that alleged that there are “big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA, a claim that isnt backed by facts, Felicia Sonmez and Elise Viebeck report.

Must have final total on November 3rd, he wrote, adding fuel to concerns that a delayed result on Election Day will cause unrest.

Twitter labeled the tweet as “misleading.” There is no indication that delayed ballot counting is indicative of fraud or that mail-in ballots lead to fraud.

Politicians are collecting vast troves of data about voters – including intimate information such as their income and religion. 

The Washington Post’s tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler set out to find out what campaigns know about him. Using California’s new data privacy law, he found that political data firms knew his credit score, his phone number and hobbies, among other personal details. “What I learned: Privacy may be a cornerstone of American liberty, but politicians on both sides of the aisle have zero problem invading it,” Fowler wrote

Campaigns see this data as an edge in fiercely competitive races. The Republican National Committee told Geoffrey it has more than 3,000 data points on every voter. Meanwhile the Democratic National Committee says it acquires enough to understand you as a person, including data about your phone that can target ads across apps. 

“Many Americans, like me, find targeted ads creepy when they come from businesses, especially when they use personal data we didn’t really consent to have tracked,” Fowler writes. “But I found it downright unsettling to learn that my credit score — and so much else — was going to politicians who could use it to try to manipulate me.”

A former Uber driver is suing the company for using “biased ratings” to determine firings.

The customer rating system doesnt account for consumer biases that could lead to drivers scores dropping, former driver Thomas Liu is alleging, according to Josh Eidelson at Bloomberg News. Liu claims he was deactivated after riders canceled on him because of his race. Ubers rating system “automatically deactivated anyone who looked different, dressed different, talked different, or acted different,” Liu told Bloomberg News.

If the court determines that Uber violated workplace protections outlined in the Civil Rights Act, it could serve another blow to the company’s argument that its drivers arent employees, and therefore not entitled to all the same legal protections. The company is supporting a California ballot initiative that would exclude its drivers from a labor law reclassifying some contractors as employees.

Liu brought the case after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to reach a conclusion on his initial complaint five years ago. His complaint cites the fact that Uber acknowledged the issue of racism in tipping disparities. He says Uber failed to address the same issue in its rating system.

Uber denied that claim. The company “has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before, Uber spokesman Matt Kallman wrote in an email to Bloomberg News.

Critics calling to break up Big Tech will host a fundraiser for Joe Biden today. 

The Silicon Valley critics are hoping to persuade the former vice president to consider stricter policies against Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants, Tony Romm reports.  

The digital gathering will include speeches from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who called for the breakup of large tech companies during his primary campaign, and Rep. David N. Cicilline, who led the House antitrust investigation into the industry. Biden has not shied away from criticizing companies over their moderation decisions and failure to crack down on misinformation. His campaign has written several letters criticizing Facebook. 

But hes been quieter on how he would take on antitrust. Fundraiser host Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who is now one of the companys biggest critics, says he hopes the fundraiser signals that the case to break up the companies deserves serious consideration. “We’re trying to signal with this event that there are viewpoints out there — that are not coming from industry — that deserve a place at the table,” he said. 

Rant and rave

Tired: 4G on the moon.

Wired: NASA confirming there is WATER on the MOON!

But … what does it taste like?

Agency scanner

The Department of Homeland Security launched an effort to get veterans to help combat disinformation campaigns.

The joint campaign with the nonprofit advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America urges veterans to evaluate online content before sharing it, Alex Horton reports

The campaign follows intelligence reports that Russia and Iran have already begun efforts to undermine voter confidence in the election.

Military members, which boast significant public trust, have been targeted by foreign interference campaigns in the past, a 2019 report from Vietnam Veterans of America found.  

The reports author criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for not acting on the report at the time and passing the responsibility to DHS. 

“This campaign is unfortunately launching far too late to have a real effect on 2020,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, VVA’s former chief investigator. “But this campaign is important for every day beyond the election. It’s an education program that I hope is not just a flash in the pan.”

Coronavirus fallout

Two California counties will no longer contract Alphabet’s Verily for coronavirus testing. 

San Francisco and Alameda counties raised concerns that the online sign-up process shut out their most vulnerable populations, including those who dont speak Spanish or English, Jenny Gold and Rachana Pradhan at Kaiser Health News report

The state of California has a $55 million partnership with Verily to establish testing sites in at least 26 other counties, but numerous privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data Verily collects could be misused.

Verily spokeswoman Kathleen Parkes said the program requires users to register to safeguard sensitive data.


Snapchat’s dancing hot dog returns for Election Day (The Verge)

Meet Topher, the rapper and Air Force vet who’s become a top conservative TikTok star (Travis M. Andrews)


  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine Section 230 immunity at 10 a.m.
  • Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Spotify release earnings on Thursday.

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