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Exclusive: Facebook lifts political ad ban for Georgia runoffs

Facebook said Tuesday it will begin letting advertisers run ads targeting Georgia voters about the state's Jan. 5 runoff elections, starting Dec. 16 at 9am Pacific Time, even as its broader temporary political ad ban remains in place.

Why it matters: The move comes days after Google lifted its full post-election political ad ban that went into effect after polls closed on Nov. 3. The updates from the two tech giants mean more digital ads will likely start being used to target voters in Georgia.

  • Prior to these announcements, the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of ad dollars being spent on the Georgia election runoff races were being poured into local broadcast ads, which are harder to target narrowly and measure for engagement.

Flashback: Facebook and Google both announced plans to ban ads after polls closed on Nov. 3 weeks before Election Day. Both extended their bans out of an abundance of caution to minimize confusion around the elections.

Details: The company didn't say why it decided to allow ads to target voters in Georgia now, other than that it's heard feedback in recent weeks from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about how important Facebook's tools are for managing political campaigns.

  • For campaigns and political groups, digital ads are easier to buy and can be targeted to a much more narrow set of people than broadcast ads, making them more cost-effective. Digital ads make it easier to solicit funding and they allow advertisers to leverage data about ad engagement to improve their messaging and campaign tactics.

How it works: Beginning Wednesday, Facebook will start enabling advertisers to buy ads through its automated system who were already authorized to run ads about social issues, elections or politics to run ads specifically in Georgia.

  • The company says it will prioritize onboarding advertisers "with direct involvement" in the Georgia runoff elections, such as the campaigns themselves, state and local elections officials, and state and national political parties.
  • Other advertisers, like political PACS, that have previously completed Facebook's ad authorizations process and want to run Georgia ads will be able to do so following new guidelines provided by Facebook.
  • Ads that target places outside of Georgia or that are not about the runoffs will be rejected. Ads that include content debunked by third-party fact-checkers or that aim to delegitimize the Georgia runoffs are prohibited.

The big picture: Georgia's extraordinary runoffs for two Senate seats at once will determine which party controls the upper house of Congress.

  • Given the heightened scrutiny about how Facebook manages political ads and misinformation on its platform, the tech giant is taking extra steps to make sure Facebook activity related to the runoffs in Georgia is accurate and helpful.
  • It's been running banners at the top of Facebook and Instagram to help people register and to vote in Georgia.

What's next: The company says it's deploying the teams and technology it used in the general election to fight voter suppression, misinformation and interference in the Georgia elections, including running its Elections Operations Center for the Georgia runoffs, to monitor and respond to threats in real time.

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