Meta Is Stifling Political Content On Instagram And Threads. What Does It Mean For Advertisers?


Meta's new political content policy could create new complexity—and new opportunities—for advertisers.

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Earlier this month, Meta announced it will no longer “proactively recommend content about politics” on Instagram and Threads. The company says the change is intended to improve the user experience and give audiences control over how and when they encounter content that they deem “political,” but ambiguity around what exactly “political content” is has left both audiences and advertisers with more questions than answers—particularly with the 2024 US election cycle already underway.

Social Media’s Role in Political Campaigns

In 2008, back when Facebook was still a relatively new platform and social media still in its infancy, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama recognized its potential as a way to speak directly with voters, engage in grassroots fundraising, and get out the vote.

In the 16 years since, social media has exploded, becoming a virtually ubiquitous part of audiences’ digital lives. Facebook—now a part of Meta alongside platforms including Messenger, Instagram, Threads, WhatsApp, and others—has long since transformed from “innovative startup” to “media giant.” The platforms make up one of the largest walled gardens in the digital advertising ecosystem, drawing a projected $62.7 billion in US ad spend in 2024—accounting for 75.6% of US social ad spend and 20.4% of all US digital ad spend.

Amidst this extraordinary growth, it’s no surprise that political ad spending on social networks has increased rapidly alongside it, having grown by 194% from the 2016 to 2020 election cycle and projected to rise by nearly 350% from 2020 to 2024. But social media’s role in political campaigns extends beyond paid advertising. The platforms allow for public discourse and grassroots mobilization, providing a place for voters to express their opinions and engage in the political process.

Yet social media can also foster polarization, allow hate speech to run rampant, and lead to the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation. And with tools like generative AI making it all too easy to create and circulate false and misleading content—from robocalls purporting to be President Biden to AI-generated images of Donald Trump being arrested—social media is poised to again be a complex space throughout the 2024 election cycle, with Meta’s recent announcement only further complicating matters.

The degree to which Meta’s policy change will impact both marketing and political discourse on social media is still unclear, particularly given the many unknowns surrounding the announcement. Meta has yet to clarify what qualifies as “political content,” and there has been no mention of any new limits to political advertising on these platforms. What the company does make clear is that users will only see organic political content from accounts they choose to follow, and that if users want political posts recommended to them, they will have more control over how and when they see them.

Meta’s Political Advertising Track Record

When it comes to political advertising, Meta’s history is both storied and spotty.

“Historically, Meta entities have been a consistent and successful environment for political campaigns—from fundraising, to storytelling, to get out the vote efforts,” says Jaime Vasil, Group Vice President of Candidates & Causes at Basis Technologies. The 2008 election was, after all, dubbed the Facebook Election by some observers. With many rival social media platforms (including TikTok, LinkedIn, and Pinterest) prohibiting political ads entirely, Meta’s platforms have long been a reliable go-to for political campaigns.

However, the company’s past is also checkered with scandal and fallout: from the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal in the 2010s, to Facebook’s role in spreading false narratives leading up to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Meta has also made significant cuts to its teams tasked with online safety—including content moderators—as well as team members with positions related to trust, integrity, and responsibility.

Improving the User Experience

Given this legacy, Meta’s recent announcement could well be a move to get ahead of the potential spread of mis- and disinformation that has already begun to characterize the 2024 election cycle.

That motive also aligns with what they’ve said publicly about wanting “Instagram and Threads to be a great experience for everyone.” Like that text you get from your aunt right before Thanksgiving reminding you to check your politics at the door, Meta likely wants to keep these platforms fun, escapist, and bright—a place where users can get lost in an endless doom-scroll of light and entertaining content.

This change is likely to shape how marketers and advertisers of all kinds (both political and nonpolitical) approach the platform. If Meta's suppositions prove to be correct, a relative lack of political content could make Instagram a more enticing destination for users and more brand safe for advertisers—creating new incentive and opportunity for increased spend on the channel. Yet it also brings new complexity around brands' organic content and creative on Instagram and Threads: When there is so much ambiguity around what exactly constitutes "political content," marketers may find themselves steering clear of anything that could be interpreted as political subject matter, thereby narrowing the focus of their organic marketing efforts—and curbing its potential.

For political marketers, meanwhile, this could have a significant impact on how they approach both their campaigns and messaging on Instagram and Threads—particularly if they were counting on organic social content to drive awareness and action for their campaigns. Meta’s shift could push political advertisers to put a greater emphasis on gaining followers, since only audiences that follow them will see the political messages posted to their accounts. It could also mean that user-generated content will play an even bigger role, as candidates strive to connect with younger and diverse audiences without any help from the algorithm.

What About Political Ads on Instagram?

One notable absence from Meta’s announcement: any implications for their political advertising policies. Since 2018, advertisers have spent more than $4.2 billion on ads about social issues, elections, and/or politics across the tech company’s several social media platforms, and Meta’s policy of accepting political ads (and the accompanying ad spending) shows no signs of changing.

With this new content policy, the only way for political advertisers to reach new audiences on Instagram will be through paid ads (Threads, meanwhile, remains ad-free…for now…) And though this shift could cause challenges for marketers when it comes to organic content, it could also create new advertising opportunities, such as partnering with influencers to reach the sizable audiences and followings they have already amassed.

“In general, it is getting tougher for political campaigns to reach voters. But I think this move by Meta may actually create an environment that is less cluttered for paid ads, potentially leading to more engagement,” says Vasil. Perhaps in a space where users are less inundated with organic political content, teams’ paid ads will have a more significant impact.

Advertising on Meta—Looking Forward

Whether it’s an attempt to make their platforms better for users, to ensure the only way to get a political message across is through paid ads, or something else entirely, Meta’s recent announcement will no doubt impact political advertisers in the 2024 election cycle and for years to come.

Though many questions remain unanswered, political campaigns that rely heavily on social media for both paid and organic content will benefit from reconsidering their approach within Meta’s updated guidelines and shifting their campaign and messaging strategies to meet the demands of this new landscape.


Interested in taking a deeper dive into the political advertising environment in 2024? In our Ultimate Guide to Political Advertising in 2024, we unpack the latest trends, stats, insights, and strategies for political advertisers to craft winning campaigns in the year ahead.

Political Advertising in 2024