The Facebook Inc. application is displayed for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Facebook Faces Criticism of Ad Policy From Global Publishers

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is facing more blowback for its decision to categorize the promotion of news articles as political content, with global publishers now urging Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to change its policy.

Seven trade groups representing media publishers and broadcast organizations in more than 120 countries including the New York Times, and 21st Century Fox, sent a letter to Zuckerberg Monday. They’re criticizing the social media giant’s decision to place ads publishers buy to boost exposure to their political articles in a public database alongside the ad information of political candidates.

“We see your policy as another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda,” the letter said. “Marketing our products, or subscriptions to our products, is not separate from our journalism or from press freedom.”

Under the new rules, any ads promoting political content -- even news articles on politics and elections --- will be placed in an archive that includes the identities of who’s paying for the ads and the demographics of who’s seen the ads for up to seven years. The archive began in the U.S., but Facebook has said it plans to expand the approach globally.

“Facebook must recognize the value of journalism created by independent news media companies and respect the critical role journalism plays in supporting societies across the world,” World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers president Michael Golden said in a statement.

The Menlo Park, California-based company first alerted publishers to the new rules last month following months of criticism over Russian operatives’ use of the site to influence the 2016 presidential election. Within hours of a Bloomberg News report on the initiative and the criticism from news organizations, Facebook said it would work with publishers to come up with a policy that distinguishes journalism from political advocacy.

“Transparency leads to greater accountability and it’s something our news partners have encouraged, which is why we’re moving in this direction for all advertising that involves political content,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, said in an email.

News Media Alliance Chief Executive Officer David Chavern, who has been one of the loudest critics of the new policy, offered last month an alternative plan that would exempt a "white list" of mainstream news organizations from the new requirement.

“We’re working to treat advertised news content differently in the archive, which addresses our news partners’ fundamental concern,” Brown said. “An exemption or whitelist would directly negate the new levels of transparency we’re trying to achieve.”

Chavern’s group organized the coalition that sent the letter Monday, which includes Digital Content Next, American Society of News Editors, European Publishers Council, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, News Media Alliance, Society of Professional Journalists and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Bloomberg News is a member of Digital Content Next.

In an email obtained by Bloomberg News, Brown responded by saying the company would "take your suggestions to heart" but said the company planned to negotiate with publishers directly.

Separately, the issue of political ads on social media has caught the attention of Congress. U.S. Senators Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would subject online political ads to similar disclosure rules that now govern advertising content in other media such as TV and radio. The measure has the support of Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Election Commission is also considering new regulations that would require disclaimers identifying the sponsors of online, mobile and other forms of digital ads, offering alternative rules.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.