By QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Google informed its advertising clients via email Wednesday morning that beginning Thursday, the company’s temporary political ad ban will no longer be in effect, opening the door for the Georgia Senate candidates and outside groups to ramp up their digital strategy and run ads on both Google and YouTube.
Since the general election, those who wanted to promote paid advertising on the platforms regarding the dual runoff elections, which will decide which party controls Congress’s upper chamber, have been blocked from doing so.
“To protect users, we regularly pause ads for a discrete period over unpredictable, ‘sensitive’ events when ads can be used to exploit the event or amplify misleading information. While we no longer consider this post-election period to be a sensitive event, we will continue to rigorously enforce our ads policies, which strictly prohibit demonstrably false information that could significantly undermine trust in elections or the democratic process,” Google said in a statement given to ABC News.
In late September, Google implemented a “sensitive event policy” that effectively banned political advertising that referenced candidates or the election and its results beginning when polls closed on Nov. 3, citing the “unprecedented amount of votes” that would be counted after the election.
Facebook also instituted a post-election ad ban, choosing to “temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral or political ads” beginning at 3 a.m. EST on Nov. 4 in order to “help protect the integrity of the election.”
Facebook’s ad ban is still in effect. A Facebook spokesperson told ABC News the company had no comment regarding whether or when it will remove its ban.
In statements, both Georgia’s Democratic Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock’s campaign and the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), cheered Google’s decision and called on Facebook to do the same.
“Google has finally lifted its hurtful ban and while it comes after the voter registration deadline already passed, we will now be able to communicate with voters about the approaching Early Voting period in one of the most important elections of our lifetimes. It is critical Facebook reverses course and does the same,” said Terrence Clark, a Warnock campaign spokesman.
The DSCC called Google’s decision “long overdue,” but nonetheless “positive news,” and blasted Facebook’s continued ban as “indefensible.”
“The bottom line is that banning political ads does not solve the serious problems these online platforms have with spreading organic disinformation about our elections. The longer Facebook’s ad ban continues, the more indefensible this decision becomes and the more harm it does to voter participation in Georgia’s runoffs, with a disproportionate effect on communities of color,” DSCC Executive Director Scott Fairchild said.
ABC News has also reached out to the campaigns for Democrat Jon Ossoff, Republicans Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, as well as the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for comment about Google’s decision.
On Nov. 11, following reports that Google and Facebook were extending their political ad ban for weeks post-election, Warnock’s campaign issued a statement calling it “an irresponsible decision… (that) cannot stand,” and called for an exemption to be made for the runoff campaigns.
When reached by ABC News at that time, a Google spokesperson said the company had not issued any new updates to the policy beyond what it told advertisers in September, which did not include a concrete timeline for the temporary political ad ban.
Facebook confirmed on Nov. 11 that the company was extending its ad ban, which also applied to Instagram.
“We know that people are disappointed that we can’t immediately enable ads for runoff elections in Georgia and elsewhere,” tweeted Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern. “We do not have the technical ability in the short term to enable political ads by state or by advertiser, and we are also committed to giving political advertisers equal access to our tools and services.”
The company said advertisers should anticipate the ban “to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner.”
Friday marks one month since that update.
While digital ad spending has been curbed, hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on television and radio ad buys in the runoff races.
With less than a month to go until the runoff election, campaigns and outside groups are set to spend more than $418 million on TV and radio ads in the two final contests of the 2020 election cycle.
From Nov. 4 through Jan. 5, Republican campaigns and outside groups supporting them have aired or booked more than $250 million in ads, while Democratic campaigns and outside groups have aired or booked $167 million in ads, according to ad buy data from CMAG.
ABC News’ Soo Rin Kim contributed reporting.
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