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Even with Georgia runoff, Facebook and Google continue their bans on political ads

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly criticized the decisions, saying the bans "amount to unacceptable voter suppression."
Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.Reuters; CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Facebook and Google have decided to keep political ads off their platforms for now, with no exceptions, even for at least one runoff election in Georgia that could help determine control of the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee quickly criticized the decisions Wednesday, saying the bans "amount to unacceptable voter suppression."

The campaigns of Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock said in separate statements that the bans will block voters from learning how to register to vote, how to request absentee ballots and how to ensure that their votes are counted.

The tech companies, which dominate online advertising, are enforcing a quiet period in political ads out of concern that they could inflame tensions and lead to civil unrest while the presidential election results are being certified.

"The temporary pause for ads about politics and social issues in the U.S. continues to be in place as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the election," Facebook said in a blog post Wednesday.

"Advertisers can expect this to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner," the company said.

Google said late Tuesday that it also wasn't ready to begin resuming political ads; it didn't say why.

Democratic strategists who objected to the decisions say online advertising is crucial to reaching voters in Georgia as the party tries to unseat two Republicans in the Senate.

One of the senators, Kelly Loeffler, is in a runoff Jan. 5 against Warnock after neither won the 50 percent needed to win outright on Election Day. And the race between Ossoff and Sen. David Perdue is still rated "too close to call" by NBC News and could also be headed for a runoff.

Scott Fairchild, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the ad bans were "voter suppression plain and simple," and he called for an exception in Georgia.

"Organic disinformation is the actual problem on these platforms, and continuing to ban ads is now actively harmful to organizations working to inform Georgia's diverse voters about the January runoffs," Fairchild said in a statement.

Facebook advertising executive Rob Leathern responded in a tweet that the company did not have the technical ability in the short term to make an exception by enabling political ads by state or by advertiser, and that it wanted to keep political advertisers on equal footing.

Still, other digital ad experts said they were skeptical that Facebook and Google couldn't find a less restrictive way to prevent violence.

"I don't understand why a company that literally mines information from everything we post, click on, scroll over, etc. cannot differentiate between factual election ads for the Senate race in GA and fake information about the presidential election outcome," Megan Clasen, a senior adviser to President-elect Joe Biden's campaign, said in a tweet.

Julia Rosen, a digital ad consultant in Los Angeles who isn't involved in the Georgia races, said Facebook's decision, in particular, would directly and negatively affect the Democrats' runoff campaigns in Georgia. She said Facebook could review ads more closely if it's concerned about sparking violence.

"For years now, it's been difficult to reach an audience of folks who have interacted with or liked your page without paying Facebook to boost your post," she said. With the ad ban, she said, "that's gone."

"You can't even talk to your own audience," she said.

Google did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether they were considering a carve-out for the Senate races.