Journalism Groups Denounce Facebook’s Political Ad Policy

Seven organizations representing some of the news media’s largest players have called on Facebook not to treat advertising run by publishers—including promoted news stories—as political or issue ads, arguing that doing so mischaracterizes legitimate news outlets.

The news industry has a real problem with Facebook’s definition of what constitutes a political ad—and they’re speaking out.

In a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, the leaders of seven journalism organizations called on Facebook to do a better job of differentiating political advertising from legitimate news content—including publishers’ promoted news stories—particularly in regard to an ad archive that the company is developing for political or “issue ads” in the interest of transparency.

“Placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising implies that Facebook considers there is a political agenda behind journalism,” the groups stated in the letter [PDF]. “This is not a marketing or business issue. We see your policy as another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda.”

The seven groups (the American Society of News Editors, Digital Content Next, the News Media Alliance, the Society of Professional Journalists, the European Publishers Council, MPA–The Association of Magazine Media, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) said promoted news content should be “treated as general advertising and not placed into the political category by the mere fact that it mentions politics or issues.”

The letter urges Facebook to develop a process to identify legitimate news organizations that would be exempted from the ad archive. Criteria could include whether a publisher has a dedicated news staff, produces content supported by subscriptions or advertising, or is a member in a recognized news industry organization.

“It is important that several criteria are taken into consideration when determining a publisher eligible to be exempted,” the groups wrote.

The move expands on a prior push by the News Media Alliance to create exceptions to the “issue ad” rule for news publishers. “Facebook’s plan to group quality publishers alongside political advocacy, which its ad archive will do, is a fundamental mischaracterization of journalism,” Alliance President and CEO David Chavern wrote last month.

The issue is critical to the news industry because promoting articles on Facebook has become a necessary tactic for many large publishers to maintain reach, even on pages that have millions of readers.

Facebook appears to be responding to the media’s concerns, saying it will update the policy this summer, Digiday reported.

(blackred/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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