Today, in response to Facebook’s recent announcement that it will ban political advertising in the week leading up the November 2020 elections, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking that he reconsider his decision. Senator Hawley writes that Facebook’s decision could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout and includes an overly broad blackout of advertising related to “social issues.”
"In a culture in which virtually every issue—from knitting and yoga to sushi and young-adult fiction—has become aggressively politicized, any topic can be deemed ‘sensitive’ in the right context. Given Facebook’s sweeping powers to shape the news and information that Americans receive, clarity on Facebook’s understanding of these terms is critical."Senator Josh Hawley
Senator Hawley calls for Facebook to respond by September 23, 2020 clarifying how it defines a “political” or “issue” ad, whether news or opinion outlets will be allowed to promote stories related to the election, and whether advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood or NARAL will be permitted to advertise on Facebook during the blackout.
Read the full letter here or below.
September 15, 2020
Chief Executive Officer
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
On September 3, Facebook announced it would be implementing a new policy of banning political advertising on its platform during the seven days leading up to the November 2020 election, as well as attaching “informational labels” to posts that “seek to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods.”  I urge you and your company to reconsider these policies.
According to Facebook, the advertising blackout does not merely extend to overt political content. It also applies to advertising linked to “social issues” which Facebook has defined as “sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing or proposed legislation.”  In a culture in which virtually every issue—from knitting  and yoga  to sushi  and young-adult fiction —has become aggressively politicized, any topic can be deemed “sensitive” in the right context. Given Facebook’s sweeping powers to shape the news and information that Americans receive, clarity on Facebook’s understanding of these terms is critical.
In light of the high stakes involved in this issue, I request a response to the following questions no later than September 23, 2020:
- How does Facebook specifically define a “political” or “issue” ad? Would an advertisement explaining how citizens can protect themselves against mob violence, or an ad for concealed-carry firearms training, run afoul of Facebook’s blackout?
- Will all news and opinion websites be permitted to publish and promote stories pertaining to the election or to “sensitive” topics during the “political advertising” blackout? If not, what criteria will Facebook use in determining whether a source is “political” in nature?
- Will Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other abortion advocacy groups be permitted to advertise on Facebook during the blackout, notwithstanding the fact that their work is the epitome of a “sensitive topic” that is “heavily debated”?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
United States Senator