What happens when the world's most dominant platform decides to allow only one candidate to advertise in an election contest?
Congressional candidate Laura Loomer's election campaign ads on Facebook have been prevented, which her campaign is warning gives her opponent an unfair advantage during the election.
Loomer, who is running for the Florida 21 Congressional District, expressed her frustration about the situation on Gab and in a statement the campaign starts by acknowledging that Facebook is critical to digital campaigning, as evidenced by the Trump re-election campaign's $47 million budget on the social platform.
“My campaign was told yesterday that if a PAC attempted to advertise to promote my campaign, their ads would be taken down. Facebook said their new policy is that nothing about Laura Loomer is permitted on Facebook and for the duration of the election cycle, my campaign will not get access to run any of our own ads,” Loomer wrote.
Additionally, according to Trump advisor Jared Kushner, digital campaigning on Facebook was critical to Trump winning in 2016. Yet, Loomer, a Republican, explains that she is a candidate running for a federal seat that is not allowed to advertise on Facebook. Considering her rival, Lois Frankel, is using Facebook for her campaign, Loomer is accusing Facebook of election interference and bias.
“Yet for me, I'm the only federal candidate in the nation banned from advertising on Facebook. My competitor, Lois Frankel is running ads on Facebook to reach voters, and my campaign is shut out. This is illegal election interference,” Loomer said. She, therefore, demands the advertising platform allow her to run campaign ads or ban Frankel from running ads to make it a fair contest.
“If the idea of banning Lois Frankel from advertising on Facebook outrages you, you should be equally outraged over the fact that my campaign is universally de-platformed and is being denied equal access to run ads on Facebook,” reads part of the statement provided to Breitbart and others.
Laura Loomer is a vocal campaigner who is no stranger to censorship and has previously been banned from both Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter permanently banned her in 2018 for “hateful” conduct. In a tweet, the fiery Republican attacked Ilhan Omar, a Democrat and Islamic woman who is Minnesota's 5th district representative in congress. Loomer accused Omar of not only being “anti-Jewish” but also “pro-Sharia.” Twitter said that her permanent banning from the platform was for hateful conduct, not her political affiliation.
Loomer was banned from both Facebook and Instagram in 2019, alongside other figures such as Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos. Facebook claimed that she violated site policies and deemed her a “dangerous individual,” which spurred Loomer to sue Facebook.
In order to advertise on Facebook, Loomer doesn't need to have a personal Facebook account, but a Facebook Page is needed – and Loomer isn't even allowed to create an account for her political campaign. Her campaign is run as a separate entity and Facebook's decision is directly preventing her campaign from advertising, and raises the question about election fairness. Twitter this year famously decided to ban all political ads on the platform, but they're still allowed on Facebook. With modern day social media platforms increasingly the main avenue through with candidates reach people, preventing candidates from advertising on the platforms could have major election implications if a one candidate isn't allowed to advertise while their rival is. It's worth pointing out that, at least at the time of writing, Loomer's rival Frankel doesn't appear to be running any Facebook ads, according to Facebook.
This kind of selective bias in accepting political advertising from a TV or radio broadcaster wouldn't be allowed due to the Communications Act of 1934 and to the equal-time rule. But there's no rule for social media. This rule came about as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was worried that broadcasters could easily manipulate the outcome of elections by limiting points of view and excluding other candidates from getting the same airtime. While it doesn't apply to news broadcasts, it does apply to ads.
The equal-time rule is still in place today but is controversial and some argue that it's a violation of the First Amendment. However, nothing like this has even been created for the digital age where social media advertising and streaming have a much more prominent effect on public persuasion than broadcast TV and radio ads that fewer people than ever pay attention to.
NOTE: The equal-time rule is not the same as the fairness doctrine, which it is extremely commonly confused with. The fairness doctrine deals with discussion of controversial issues and covering them from both sides, and was ended in 1987, while the equal-time rule deals only with political candidates and almost always just advertising.
Facebook is pervasive and despite being heavily criticized, 67% of people in the US have an account, not including Instagram which Facebook owns. This means that political advertisers can easily reach their specific target audience using Facebook ads and if only one candidate is allowed to do this, while the other has to rely on TV ads which are highly-immeasurable, increasingly ignored, and that few people come in contact with, it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that it could easily impact elections – something the FCC where concerned about when they first called for the equal-time rule.