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Trade-offs in automated political advertising regulation: evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic

Digital platforms have experienced pressure to restrict and regulate political advertising content. This paper presents evidence of unintended consequences of restrictions on political ads related to the Covid-19 pandemic. We use data on more than 300,000 ads from nearly 7,000 different advertisers from early 2020. We show that algorithmic determination of what may be a political ad because it relates to an issue of “national importance” in elections, leads Covid-19-related ads to be disqualified because they don't run with the appropriate disclaimer. Our results show that ads placed by governmental organizations aimed at informing the population about Covid-19 are especially likely to be banned compared to Covid-19 ads posted by non-governmental organizations. We suggest this means that even governmental organizations are less likely to recognize that Covid-19 content is a matter of national significance and therefore needs a disclaimer. Our results suggest that in general, most parties within the political advertising space have difficulty determining what might be a political ad needing special qualifications and disclaimers, especially in the context of national emergencies.

Lead investigator:

Grazia Cecere

Affiliation:

Institut Mines Telecom

Primary topic:

Attitudes, media & governance

Region of data collection:

North America

Status of data collection

Complete

Type of data being collected:

From private company

Unit of real-time data collection

Individual

Start date

1/2020

End date

3/2020

Frequency

Daily

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