For example, Papa John's was slapped with the political
designation for its apology ad that ran after founder John
Schnatter was accused of using a racial slur. It's unclear why
these disparate brands and ads set off Facebook alarm bells, but
they were all pushed into the company's protocols for handling
Facebook said that the ads from Nike, Reebok and Papa John's
were mistakenly relegated to the political ad archive, and that it
has been working with brands to fix these kinds of issues.
Last week, after Facebook was notified about the ads appearing
in the archive, they were removed promptly.
"These ads were placed in the Ad Archive by mistake and are now
removed," said Rob Leathern, director of product management at
Facebook, in an e-mail statement. "Our goal isn't to penalize
organizations but to help prevent abuse. That's why we've worked
with these brands and many others to gather their feedback and
improve the process. Enforcement is never perfect but it continues
to get better as we train more reviewers and our automated systems
review more ads."
Facebook has been keeping a political ad archive since May,
designed to add transparency to campaigns and issue-based ads. The
archive shows all the ads that touch on political issues, but what
is political is often open to debate. Facebook has been
criticized for being overly aggressive with what it considers
political, like social justice causes, LGBTQ and environmental
In June, a
Walmart ad was taken down for not abiding by the political
rules, because the ad mentioned "bringing jobs back to the U.S."
Facebook reversed that decision.
The archive reveals who bought the ad, how much was spent, how
many people saw it, and where it was targeted. Facebook, Twitter
and Google all built similar archives after the 2016 presidential
election, because they were abused by bad actors who created
fraudulent accounts to buy political ads that promoted
Now, with the U.S. midterms
approaching, Facebook is on high alert to make sure all
political advertisers are from the U.S. and that they don't employ
underhanded messaging tactics. Facebook built the archive so that
academics and watchdogs could uncover any irregularities.
Advertisers mostly understand that Facebook will make mistakes
and that it needed to get a grip on political advertising problems,
but it's also been overly stringent in some cases, according to
Jeanne Bright, vp and head of social activation at Essence Global
in North America.
"We have had some of our brands flagged by Facebook as political
advertisers when talking specifically about topics like voting,"
Bright says. "Even when the brand is just encouraging the act of
voting, and not taking any sort of political stance, we've gotten
Facebook is still refining the process of vetting political ads
and limiting false-positives, identifying ads as political when
they aren't. However, it appears to be erring on the side of
caution, preferring to ensnare some brands erroneously if it means
being effective policing campaign advertising.
Nike, Reebok and Papa John's did not return requests for