SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook announced on Wednesday that it intends to lift the ban on political advertising on its network and to resume a form of digital advertising that has been criticized for spreading misinformation and falsehoods and inflaming voters.

The social network said it would allow advertisers to purchase new ads on “social issues, elections or politics” starting Thursday. This is evident from a copy of an email sent to political advertisers and viewed by the New York Times. These advertisers are required to perform a series of identity checks before they are allowed to serve the ads, according to the company.

“We introduced this temporary ban after the November 2020 elections to avoid confusion or abuse after election day,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We have had a lot of feedback on this and learned more about political ads and campaigns during this election cycle. For this reason, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work in our service and to determine where further changes are appropriate. “

Political advertising on Facebook has long been faced with questions. Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook, said he wanted to maintain a largely straightforward attitude towards the speech on the site – including political advertisements – unless it would pose direct harm to the public or individuals, saying that he ” does not want “the arbiter of truth. “

However, after the 2016 presidential election, the company and intelligence officials discovered that Russians had used Facebook ads to sow dissatisfaction among Americans. Former President Donald J. Trump also used Facebook’s political ads to reinforce claims of an “invasion” of the Mexican border in 2019, among other things.

Facebook banned political ads late last year to stave off misinformation and threats of violence related to the November presidential election. In September, the company announced that it would ban new political ads for the week leading up to election day and act swiftly against posts that were intended to prevent people from voting. In October, Facebook expanded this action by stating that it would ban all political and thematic advertising after polls were closed for an indefinite period on November 3rd.

The company eventually limited itself to groups and sites that were spreading certain types of misinformation, such as: B. Prevent people from voting or registering to vote. It has spent billions of dollars eradicating foreign influence campaigns and other forms of interference from malicious government agencies and other bad actors.

In December, Facebook lifted the ban to allow some advertisers in Georgia to post political-themed and candidacy ads for the state’s January Senate election. Otherwise, the ban remained in force for the remaining 49 states.

Attitudes towards how political advertising should be treated on Facebook are decidedly mixed. Politicians, who are often not well known, can use Facebook to raise their profile and awareness of their campaigns.

“Political ads aren’t bad things in and of themselves,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and author of a book on Facebook’s impact on democracy. “They do an essential service by directly representing the concerns or positions of the candidate.”

He added, “When you ban all campaign ads on the most accessible, affordable platform out there, you tend the balance to the candidates who can afford radio and television.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, also said political advertising on Facebook can be a crucial component of democratic digital campaigning strategies.

Some political ad buyers welcomed the lifting of the ad ban.

“The advertising ban was something that Facebook did to appease the public for the misinformation being spread on the platform,” said Eileen Pollet, digital campaign strategist and founder of Ravenna Strategies. “But it hurt really good actors, while bad actors had a completely free hand. And now, especially since the elections were over, the ban has really hurt nonprofits and local organizations. “

Facebook has long tried to pull the needle between a forceful moderation of its guidelines and a lighter touch. For years, Mr Zuckerberg defended politicians’ right to say what they wanted on Facebook, but that changed last year amid mounting concerns about possible violence related to the November elections.

In January, Facebook banned Mr. Trump from using his account and posting it on the platform after delegitimizing election results on social media and sparking a violent uprising among his supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Facebook said Mr. Trump’s suspension was “indefinite”. The decision is currently under scrutiny by the Facebook Oversight Board, a third-party company founded by the company made up of journalists, academics, and others that will rule on some of the company’s delicate decisions regarding content policy enforcement. A decision is expected to be made in the next few months.

On Thursday, political advertisers on Facebook can submit new ads or activate existing political ads that have already been approved. Each ad comes with a small disclaimer stating that it was “paid for” by a political organization. For those buying new ads, it could take up to a week to complete the process of authorizing identity and verifying the ad, according to Facebook.