Facebook has long been a point of entry for small businesses and nonprofits to spread their message online. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for long.
Facebook has recently introduced algorithm changes, page rules, and requirements on advertising. Private companies have a right to regulate their own platforms, but some of these changes could lead to increased government intervention.
In early 2018, Facebook announced plans to highlight content from friends and family over that of pages. While this sounds like welcome news for individuals, it could wreak havoc on small businesses and nonprofits.
Before these changes, pages had a seemingly equal shot at retail space on the Newsfeed. Pages will now have a harder time getting their message in front of Facebook users. They must advertise their content to get the same reach as before. This would be fine, but Facebook’s new rules for pages and advertising complicates the matter.
In the aftermath of 2016, Facebook wants to make sure foreign countries aren’t using their platform to influence elections. This prompted a new, incredibly vague rule for pages. The rule states that pages with “large followings” will have to be verified. Facebook defines neither “large followings” nor the verification process.
Depending on the verification process, organizations or businesses without adequate resources could have a hard time verifying their page.
Today, we’re also announcing that people who manage Pages with large numbers of followers will need to be verified. Those who manage large Pages that do not clear the process will no longer be able to post. This will make it much harder for people to administer a Page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies. We will also show you additional context about Pages to effectively assess their content. For example, you can see whether a Page has changed its name.
In another attempt to stop the spread of fake news on their platform, Facebook has also issued new rules on political and issue ads. Much like television ads, all political and issue ads will now have a disclaimer, “Paid for by [insert name/company/organization here].” Advertisers have to be verified to run these ads with automatic disclaimers.
The verification process requires you to submit a picture of your U.S.-issued driver’s license, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, and your home mailing address. Once Facebook accepts your forms of identity, they mail you a verification code you must input on Facebook. This is a lot of information for a company that has recently come under fire for troublesome data practices.
Any ad containing a candidate’s name is a political ad. Facebook will use FEC data to determine who is and isn’t a candidate, but could include past and present candidates. This means that any time news outlets want to advertise something about President Trump or any elected official, their ads will be marked with a disclaimer, even if it is news and not in favor of or opposition to the candidate in question.
These new rules will also make it harder for political advertisers to keep their strategy secret from competitors. Facebook will also display ad performance, including impressions, how much was spent, and demographics of the audience including age, gender, and location. All political ads paid for by an organization will be viewable on their profile. Political ads will also be viewable after they run in a Political Ad Archive.
For issue ads, Facebook has released a list of 20 issues of national interest that will require disclaimers. Some of them are understandable like guns, healthcare, and immigration. Others, however, are very vague, like “values” and “government reform.” Every day, think tanks big and small run ads on these issues, but determining what is and isn’t an issue ad will result in a higher cost of advertising compliance.
Unnecessary Government Intervention
On May 10, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) released examples of what they would consider “acceptable” disclaimers on social media advertisements.
Unlike Facebook’s proposed disclaimers, the FEC’s disclaimers require a manual addition during the graphic design/copywriting process. The examples provided take up more space on ads or even take up valuable space in the post copy.
This brings to light the problem with private companies, like Facebook, regulating their own processes. The U.S. government feels they should be involved and attempt to introduce stricter and less advertiser-friendly rules because Facebook is doing so.
A great example of this happening is Net Neutrality. In 2008, Comcast was found to be throttling subscribers’ traffic to peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent. After backlash from subscribers and the media, Comcast discontinued this practice. The U.S. government, however, though they still needed to regulate it. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled 3-2 that Comcast’s throttling was illegal. This ruling led to the FCC’s heavy-handed 2010 Open Internet Order, better known as Net Neutrality regulations.
Social media and television are completely different beasts, but these new rules would institute 16-year-old rules almost identical to television advertising on social media, which have just come into the mainstream over the last five to ten years. These new rules from Facebook will make it harder for small businesses and organization to break into the Facebook space. Russian meddling in U.S. elections on Facebook is something to be worried about, but the government shouldn’t get involved just because Facebook is trying to fix their own problem.