Get Ready for a Tsunami of Political Ads on Facebook and Google

It’s a perfect storm, combining a recent Supreme Court decision, the huge surge in social networking, and one of the most explosive midterm elections we’re likely to see. And Facebook and Google are excited as all hell.


In a few months, you won’t be able to check your news feed or your Gmail account without being bombarded with political ads. At least, that’s what Facebook and Google are preparing for–and, understandably, hoping for.

While the 2008 election was really the first 21st-century election in terms of its use of new media and new technology, adoption and progression of those same technologies (and some new ones) are moving fast enough that the Internet is even more ripe for advertising in 2010. Both Facebook and Google either are or are in the process of embracing location-based features, which are of particular use to advertisers for their increased targeting accuracy. Facebook is more popular than ever. Google rolled out a social networking service, Buzz, that despite its fairly negative reception is also very popular. The iPad, along with Android phones, have put ever more opportunities for superior advertising out there.

This election is vital for both parties–not that any other election isn’t, but the virulent fighting between the political left and right has been stronger in the past few years than ever before. The Republicans need to win something, badly. Despite all their most fiery efforts, from grassroots Tea Partying to extremist rhetoric, the Republicans are still projected to run a minority in both the House and Senate in 2010. The Democrats are seen by many in their own base as floundering, making concessions without need, and disappointingly weak considering their should-be-dominating majorities in the House and Senate, combined with a Democratic White House.

And both parties are starting to adjust to the idea of using the Internet for their purposes. President Obama is famous for his YouTube fireside chats, his BlackBerry addiction, and the prominence in major speeches he’s given tech issues like universal broadband access. Both parties, but maybe especially the Republicans, have embraced social networking, especially Twitter–the Republicans are more able to spark news stories with a mere 140 characters than the Democrats.

And then there’s the landmark Supreme Court decision in January 2010 overturning previous campaign finance reform laws. The new laws permit corporate funding of political ads–though directly contributing to campaigns is still off-limits, corporations can now run their own ads stating whatever they want. It’s one of the most contentious decisions in recent memory: President Obama condemned it in the State of the Union address, and Democrats have variously called it “the worst court decision since Dred Scott” and immediately begun drafting legislation to overturn it. Republican leaders have embraced the decision as a blow for First Amendment rights (corporations in this case are given the same rights as a person), with both Mitch McConnell and John Boehner speaking in support.

What does that decision mean? Without getting into the politics of it, it means that there is now a near-limitless pool of money allowed to flow into political campaigns–and given all those reasons to use the Internet and social networking, it’s no surprise that both Facebook and Google are preparing for an influx of political ad money. Google hired Andrew Roos, a former campaign manager, to handle its political ad sales, and Facebook has begun designating certain staff specifically to political ads. We’d all best buckle up, because we’re about to get hit in the face with wave upon wave of corporate and official political ads on our favorite networks and online services.


[Image via Wonkette]

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.