Upping dispute over political ads rules, The Financial Times pulls Facebook ads from the UK

The Financial Times has quit advertising on Facebook in the U.K. in the last three weeks since the platform tightened rules around declaring political ads, a policy that has concerned U.S. publishers for being lumped in with political lobbying.

The primary concern for the FT is any ad it buys in the U.K. that relates to a political content or figure must carry the logo “paid for by,” blurring the line between journalism and political advocacy, in the eyes of the FT. Facebook has engaged in a wide-ranging push to bring transparency to political advertising in the wake of scandals arising from Russian interference in elections in both the U.S. and U.K.

“We don’t want advertising for the FT to be shown to be paid for by in the same way as political lobbying,” said Jon Slade, global chief commercial officer at the publisher, speaking at a GroupM event on fake news in London this week. “That leads to a dangerous conflation of journalism and lobbying; they are not the same thing.”

Facebook did not offer comment on the record for this piece, but a spokesperson highlighted that in the archive of ads with political content it draws a line between promoted news and political ads.

The FT was one of several publishers that stopped advertising on Facebook in the U.S. in May after the platform rolled out its ad labeling policy. Slade said the FT was not a “tiny” spender of advertising on the platform, but the negative business impact has been negligible, although he was unwilling to share numbers. “Attribution is difficult, but we didn’t see anything that would cause bother,” he said.

The move is mostly symbolic since Facebook is unlikely to feel impact from the FT not boosting posts. Facebook brought in over $13 billion in ad revenue in the second quarter alone.

Slade also expressed concerns that Facebook’s policy requires advertisers to verify their personal identity. “We feel that’s an unrealistic incumbency to put on an employee of the FT, which potentially comes with a risk of liability.” A Facebook spokesperson noted that personal information is deleted within 30 days and sent only to trusted partners. Yet the platform is coming under fire for not protecting users’ data.

This feeds into the broader difficulty around policing fake news and asking platforms to self-regulate: When platforms come up with particular practices, they aren’t fit for publisher’s purpose.

Facebook is bringing more transparency to election advertising following calls from the British government. On Oct. 16, Facebook stated that all U.K. ads that contain political figures, political parties, elections, legislation will need to verify their identity and location and carry a “paid for by” disclaimer. In the U.S., Facebook’s ad policy is much wider-ranging, including other hot-button issues like immigration.

There’s still plenty of places for the FT to direct its budget. This month, it showed how it’s voting with its feet by running ad campaign “Don’t decide until you subscribe” on Twitter, LinkedIn, audio, podcasts and out of home ads. Twitter has exempted publishers from its ads policy.

“If I said to my CEO that we’d probably be down three points of growth next year because we’re not advertising on Facebook, knowing the FT as I do, we’d be OK with that,” said Slade. “We take the moral responsibility of how we position the brand seriously.”

Image courtesy of the Financial Times via Facebook. 


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