Facebook admits it ‘improperly’ blocked some political ads due to ‘technical issues’ as Joe Biden’s campaign slams it for being ‘wholly unprepared’

mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Facebook "improperly" blocked some political ads due to "technical issues" when implementing its ban on new ads in the week before Election Day, the company said in a blog post Thursday.
  • Facebook said this was an automated process and that "no ad was paused or rejected by a person, or because of any partisan consideration."
  • Biden's campaign had earlier on Thursday slammed Facebook after thousands of its ads were blocked, saying it had "no sense of the scale of the problem, who it is affecting, and their plan to resolve it."
  • "It is abundantly clear that Facebook was wholly unprepared to handle this election despite having four years to prepare," the campaign told Business Insider in a statement.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook admitted on Thursday that it "improperly" restricted or paused some political and social issue ads due to technical glitches with its ad review systems.

In a blog post Thursday evening, Facebook said that "technical flaws... caused a number of ads from a wide range of advertisers to be paused improperly, and prevented advertisers from making permissible changes to their ads."

"While this impacted a small proportion of the ads about politics and social issues in our system, we regret any disruption in the delivery of these ads during this period," the company said. "We have implemented changes to fix these issues, and most political ads are now running without any problems."

Facebook announced in early September that it wouldn't accept new ads in the week before the election, and said Thursday that the restriction kicked in Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. PT. But due to a combination of technical issues with its automated systems that review ads as well as a lack of clarity in communicating nuances of the election week policy to advertisers, some ads were paused or restricted incorrectly, the company said.

Facebook said that some ads were paused because advertisers made changes to the audiences they were targeting "shortly before the deadline, which had created new ads that needed to go through approval and delivery before the deadline passed."

"In speaking with advertisers and reviewing our instructions to them, we realized that we could have been clearer," the company added.

Facebook's response came as Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign slammed the company earlier on Thursday after thousands of its ads were restricted or paused by the platform. Biden's campaign told Business Insider that many aspects of its Facebook ad efforts have been impacted, including voter turnout and persuasion ads, and that it estimates the glitch has cost it around $500,000 in fundraising.

"For more than a year, our campaign has engaged with Facebook in good faith to both better understand their shifting policies around elections and to push for equal and measurable enforcement of those rules. Once again, just five days before Election Day, they have failed to meet the moment," Rob Flaherty, the Biden campaign's digital director, told Business Insider in a statement.

"We have no sense of the scale of the problem, who it is affecting, and their plan to resolve it," he said. "We find ourselves 5 days out from Election Day unable to trust that our ads will run properly, or if our opponents are being given an unfair, partisan advantage."

A spokesperson for President Donald Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook denied that the glitch was in any way connected to politics.

"No ad was paused or rejected by a person, or because of any partisan consideration. The technical problems were automated and impacted ads from across the political spectrum and both Presidential campaigns," it said, adding that it provided the same instructions around ad targeting rules to everyone and that "advertisers across the political spectrum and both Presidential campaigns were confused by our guidance and had ads paused as a result."

Biden's campaign also criticized Facebook for still having issues rolling out and enforcing its political ad policies so close to Election Day.

"It is abundantly clear that Facebook was wholly unprepared to handle this election despite having four years to prepare. Facebook must take steps today to clearly rectify and explain the depth of this fiasco," Flaherty said. 

Facebook has faced criticism in the past over its approach to political ads, and while some have praised the pre-election restrictions, this latest misstep risks further undermining confidence in its ability to enforce that and other policies.

"The intent behind Facebook's ban on new ad creatives in this final week before the election was a good one, but as this shows, the details weren't well thought out and definitely weren't well communicated to political advertisers," Laura Edelson, a researcher who studies political ads at New York University, told Business Insider.

"We are going into an election that looks very different from what most voters are used to, and right now confusion like this just makes it much harder for Facebook to rebuilt trust with its users and customers," she said.

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