By Emily Glazer, Patience Haggin and Alexandra Bruell 

Republican and Democratic political advertisers are scrambling to submit their ads to Facebook Inc. before the end of Monday after the social network decided not to allow new political ads in the week leading up to Election Day.

Facebook's move, which it announced last month as part of an effort to limit misinformation that could lead to civil unrest, is prompting campaigns to submit new ads as soon as possible. Some are also looking for other platforms or social-media influencers to carry their messages.

The rush is part of an effort to guarantee political groups would be able to use Facebook to share information about voting, persuade people to go to the polls and inform them about races. Tech for Campaigns, a technology nonprofit that works with left-leaning down-ballot campaigns, submitted ads for roughly 60 local Democratic races ahead of the deadline to Facebook, which is less expensive than television or radio advertising.

"A lot of money does come in at the very end. That's just donor behavior, " Tech for Campaigns' co-founder Jessica Alter said. So the group submitted its ads extra early so that any ad Facebook rejected could be altered and resubmitted before the Monday night deadline.

Facebook, as well as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, is also blocking political advertising after polls close on Election Night.

As campaigns and political groups shift strategies to adjust to Facebook's new limitations, some are increasingly turning to other platforms or social-media influencers, where rules often are murkier for political content.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign hired Obviously, an influencer marketing agency, to recruit popular social-media users with the power to reach their relatively small but devoted groups of followers in swing states. While Obviously is being paid, the influencers are volunteering their efforts.

Obviously founder Mae Karwowski said Instagram -- a popular Facebook-owned platform for influencers -- has become more important for user posts about politics in the wake of Facebook's weeklong blackout.

A Biden aide said the work with Obviously is part of a robust strategy to reach voters through organic posts on social media. Influencers have also been used to support the Trump campaign or other Republicans during this cycle.

Daniel Beckmann, founder and chief executive of Soapboxx, an organization that helps Democratic campaigns organize volunteers, said campaigns using volunteer social-media influencers might want them to stay active even after Election Day, especially in contested races.

A Facebook spokeswoman said if Instagram influencers are paid to post content, they must follow Facebook's policy and disclose it. If a post is boosted to reach more people, it would require a disclaimer, she said.

While Facebook's political-ad limitation doesn't have the outsize impact it would likely have had during a typical election season -- with many in the country now voting early, either in person or by mail, due to coronavirus concerns -- it is still limiting, political operatives said.

Political groups might not be able to respond to attacks from opponents, share information about changes to polling sites' locations or hours or react to other unexpected moves in the last few days before Election Day.

Republicans and Democrats also said Facebook's move favors incumbents or those with larger followings that can blast out messages from their own accounts or pages instead of relying on advertisements.

"Smaller campaigns are the ones who will be most negatively impacted by these changes," said Reid Vineis, vice president of Majority Strategies, a digital ad-buying firm serving Republicans. "Larger campaigns have digital teams, agencies and more resources to run ads through other platforms...whereas local campaigns frequently put all their eggs in the Facebook basket."

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company thinks get-out-the-vote messaging is important -- and it is still allowing ads so long as they are approved by the deadline. It is banning new ads because there often isn't enough time to contest new claims in campaign messaging in the final days before an election, she said.

Political campaigns typically raise -- and then spend -- a lot of money in their final weeks. Facebook didn't disclose political ad spending specific to the weeks ahead of the 2018 election. But on Google platforms, 56% of such spending happened a month ahead of the 2018 election and 42% of advertisers started spending in the final four weeks, according to an analysis of Google ad archive data by Tech for Campaigns.

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the decision to block new political ads, he cited as a concern likely delays in tallying election results due to an expected pandemic-driven surge in absentee voting. At the time, a number of Republicans and Democrats denounced the move for requiring them to change strategies so close to the election. Still, it is better than banning Facebook political ads altogether, said Andrew Bleeker, president of Bully Pulpit Interactive, which works with campaigns.

Amid confusion since unveiling the policy, Facebook has sent frequent updates to political advertisers with wording specifications, early deadlines and other recommendations. The company has suggested that political advertisers complete its authorization process by Oct. 20 and create any ads before Oct. 23 "to prevent last-minute disapprovals that would prevent your ad from running," according to an email viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook has reminded them that ad reviews can take up to 72 hours and that ads must be approved and start delivering impressions by Oct. 27.

The social-media giant has also encouraged advertisers to run messages that will stay relevant through Election Day, prohibiting "vote today" and instead suggesting "Vote on November 3," according to emails reviewed by the Journal.

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com, Patience Haggin at patience.haggin@wsj.com and Alexandra Bruell at alexandra.bruell@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 26, 2020 13:25 ET (17:25 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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