Since Donald Trump rode down an escalator to announce his run in 2015, Big Tech has struggled with its role in U.S. politics. Technology and strategies that were praised as innovative and revolutionary during Barack Obama’s elections in 2008 and 2012 for giving new voters a voice were, in the Trump era, viewed in a harsher light by those on the left. The last four years have been a confrontation over the reality that the modern digital public square is privately owned.
Last week, Google lifted its ban on ads related to political topics, but what if they hadn’t? What if Facebook maintains its similar policy? The two platforms, together with Amazon, take in some 70 percent of all U.S. online advertising spending. What would a worst-case scenario look like for candidates and their allies heading into the 2022 midterms and beyond? Here’s what that doomsday scenario could look like:
Facebook ads don’t return.
Facebook’s ad ban has been in effect since Nov. 3, with a brief lifting during the Georgia Senate runoffs. But so far this year the social media behemoth hasn’t provided any hints that ads for political issues will return.
A survey from the Center for Campaign Innovation found that 60 percent of voters use Facebook every day, while more than a third of Americans regularly get news from the site. By some estimates, however, just 5.2 percent of a page’s followers see the average Facebook post without paid promotion. This figure is likely to be even lower for candidates and issue advocacy groups following tests by the platform to reduce the amount of political content in news feeds.