Facebook, National Issues of Public Importance, and You
What do the words “energy” “environment” “guns” “poverty” “civil rights” “taxes” “values” “education” and “terrorism” all have in common?
If you answered, “some topics Facebook considers “national issues of public importance that will require advertiser authorization and labeling for ads targeting the US” — you passed! (Visit Facebook for the complete list.)
In an effort to increase transparency, those paying to advertise content on “issues of public importance” on Facebook and Instagram will have to prove that the ad purchaser is an actual person with a U.S. mailing address. The ad will also have to include disclosures about who’s paying for it and viewers will be able to access a large quantity of data about it and other posts which are being run.
Bonus question: Does this affect nonprofits, grassroots advocacy groups, news agencies, and other organizations, in addition to clearly political entities and individuals running for office?
Yes. No matter who you are — if part of your social media strategy involves boosting or advertising content (we’ll call them ads) that may fall within the range of topics of importance — your ad could be rejected until someone in your organization goes through Facebook’s authorization process. The authorization process is not immediate, so if this is a way you communicate with targeted audiences, it’s important to be prepared.
Does Everyone Need to Be Authorized?
Only if you advertise. Any person or group with a page can post as before. You and others can share posts, encourage others to share posts, and comment on any of these topics as you wish. That hasn’t changed. Any ad that was previously allowed is still allowed and nothing has changed regarding the content’s ability to appear as sponsored content or to be boosted.
What has changed if you want to pay to have more people see the content, the person boosting the ad must be verified and whoever is paying for the ad must be clearly identified in it.
It’s easy to see how this affects posts related to people running for office – be it local school board or national Congress – and those who are promoting clearly political messages, like “Vote Yes on This!” but it’s not limited to these scenarios. A nonprofit organization promoting a public health conference, a grassroots issue-related vigil or march, or a news agency with a good issue-based story may want to boost content to reach a larger audience — a key piece of Facebook advertising strategy – and could therefore also be affected.
It’s better to be prepared than to miss the opportunity.
The authorization process can take between two and four weeks, according to Facebook.
The requirements include enabling two-factor authentification for your account and providing identifying information (which will not be shown on your profile or in ads):
- Picture of a photo ID (follow the instructions carefully and request a manual review if you get too frustrated);
- Last four digits of your SSN;
- Residential address where you can receive a letter with a code used to confirm that you have a US residential address.
https://www.facebook.com/id will get you to the area you need to check on, saving you a lot of wandering around the settings to follow up on your progress.
Is This a New Thing?
Facebook made this change in May of 2018 and notified all owners of “pages” at that time, but it was something easily missed, especially by those who don’t use paid advertising often. Many are discovering this change only after their ads have been rejected, typically at a time when the ads are needed and the registration timeframe may present problems.
While you wait for your letter, read up on the new rules and details about how issue-based paid content must be labeled. Facebook provides excellent guidance in the Business Advertiser Help Center. Look up “ads related to politics or issues of national importance” at http://www.facebook.com/business/help.
Even if you think you’re not “political” it’s worth the time to be ready because you never know what you may need to promote in the future.
(If you are curious about the motivation for this change and Facebook’s vision for issue advertising, Facebook provides an excellent article with interviews from leadership here: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/05/q-and-a-on-ads-transparency.)