SAN FRANCISCO – Google will restrict how narrowly political advertisers can target voters on the company’s services, escalating pressure on Facebook to follow suit ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Starting in January, political advertisers will only be able to target broad categories –gender, age or postal code – not more specific details such as voter records or political leanings, the company said in a blog post.
“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,” said Scott Spencer, vice president of product management for Google Ads.
The new rules follow Twitter’s decision to ban all political ads starting Friday and come as the industry faces sharp criticism over how precisely these ads are targeted.
Social media companies are disassociating themselves from Facebook on political ad targeting. Facebook has said it wants the government, not corporations, to set the rules on what is allowed and what’s not in political ads.
Google and Facebook are the two largest online ad platforms in the U.S. and presidential candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to reach voters on them in 2019.
Facebook hasn’t announced any changes to its political ad policies but the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the company is discussing with Republicans and Democrats the possibility of increasing the minimum number of people who can be targeted by specific ads from 100 to a few thousand.
Earlier this week, Facebook executive Carolyn Everson told attendees at the Recode conference that Facebook would not restrict targeting in political ads. Afterward she clarified to news outlet Axios that Facebook hadn’t ruled out limiting how precisely voters can be targeted using detailed demographic and personal data.
On Thursday, Facebook said in a statement: “As we’ve said, we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”
The Trump campaign considers Facebook one of the best ways to directly reach voters rather than relying on traditional media outlets.
Gary Coby, the Trump campaign’s digital director, argued Wednesday against limiting targeting on Facebook and taking away “tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media & big tech choose to ignore!”
The Trump campaign is the biggest political spender on Facebook, shelling out more than $15 million on Facebook ads.
“This would unevenly hurt the little guy, smaller voices, & issues the public is not aware of OR news is NOT covering,” Coby said on Twitter.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and board member Peter Thiel had dinner with Trump at the White House last month when Zuckerberg was in Washington to testify before Congress , NBC News reported late Wednesday night. Facebook confirmed the previously undisclosed dinner to NBC News. It’s unclear what was discussed at the dinner.
Under the new rules announced Wednesday, Google also now requires a much broader range of advertisers including state officials and promoters of ballot measures to verify their identity, not just political candidates and elected officials.
The new policy will have broad reach, affecting political ads placed on the Google search engine, video-sharing site YouTube and display ads sold by Google on other websites.
Google also addressed its policy on lies in political ads, explicitly barring any election ad that makes “demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.” But, Google said, it expects to take action against a “very limited” number of political ads.
In one highly controversial ad, Trump’s 2020 campaign attacked Democratic presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden with unfounded claims about his connection to Ukraine. The ads have been viewed millions of times on Google.
Snapchat, which has broad reach among young voters, announced this week it will fact fact-check political ads on its platform. LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok have all said they won’t run political ads.