First Facebook election advert ban may not be as clear as it seems

The first example of a political Facebook advert being banned in the UK has now happened – or at least the first example that got widespread publicity. But I would suggest that all might not be as straightforward as it first appears.

The advert in question came from an organisation called the ‘Fair Tax campaign’. It was badged as ‘sponsored’ and contained the claim that Labour’s tax plans would costs everyone an extra £214 per month. It was taken down by Facebook after a number of complaints to the BBC advert watch initiative headed by Rory Cellan-Jones. 

However, the reason for the advert being taken down is that it didn’t comply with Facebook’s rules which require political advertisers to register and include ‘imprint’ information (noting who is responsible and their contact details). In addition to transparency, this would ensure the advert would go into the platform’s political ads library. It was not taken down for breaching the rule about false claims which can only be triggered by a third-party fact-checking organisation commissioned by Facebook – in the UK’s case So Facebook have stated that if the advertiser registers it can go back up again (at least until FullFact takes a look at it and thinks differently).

Because the complaints were made to the BBC, they have received a lot of publicity. The advert itself has been reproduced, for free, on the BBC website and the claims have reached a lot of people who would not have seen them either organically or via payment on Facebook. Of course the BBC is keen to promote its new project and so this sort of reportage was to be expected.

It would have been open to the complainants to go directly to Facebook who would, presumably, have taken the same action without the attendant publicity.

Was this in any way deliberate? If not it certainly had a lot of benefits for the former 10 Downing Street staffer who is behind the ad.