Meta Isn’t Enforcing Its Own Political Ads Policy, While the 2024 US Election Looms


“America’s education system has been hijacked by one side,” Marissa Streit, PragerU’s CEO, told Time earlier this month.

Some of the ads found by MMA on Facebook and Instagram encourage users to sign petitions to allow PragerU’s materials in schools. Others direct to some of the organization’s videos with accompanying text accusing teachers of promoting “radical ideas about gender, race, and anti-Americanism.”

Though conservative views on social issues have long held sway on the US right, pundits and politicians have begun to specifically focus on niche issues surrounding schools and education, such as transgender student athletes and critical race theory. Critical race theory—a field of academia that analyzes how issues of race permeate throughout society, including in laws and other systems of power and governance—became a major flashpoint during local elections starting in 2021. Conservatives labeled almost any education that touched on racism or the American history of slavery as part of the field. All of these issues have become major talking points—and even litmus tests—for conservative presidential candidates, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, to galvanize their supporters with the fear that their children will be “indoctrinated” by public education. By packaging conservative ideas this way, it turns social issues into questions of educational quality.

“[PragerU] represents a powerful force in the current culture wars,” says Lawrence Rosenthal, chair of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “They’re a part of a world that believes … that the institutions beyond politics—the media, education and increasingly corporate culture—are dominated, in their view, by left-wing ideology.”

Rosenthal compares using Prager’s educational materials to schools in the early 20th century in states that outlawed the teaching of evolution. “Those children grew up not knowing the kind of basic science that children in other states and around the world grew up learning,” he says.

Advertisements that fall into the category of “social issues, elections, or politics” are supposed to be labeled and cataloged on Meta’s advertising library, meaning that anyone can look up what an ad said, how many people it reached, and how much an organization spent to promote it. The onus is on advertisers to properly categorize their own ads, but if Meta finds that the advertiser has miscategorized their ads, the company can remove them.

If an organization doesn’t properly categorize its ads, it makes it harder for users and researchers to know who is behind a given campaign, or how much money they’re spending on it. Campaigns and Political Action Committees (PACs) are required to disclose how they spend money, including on advertising, but nonprofits like PragerU are not. And there are no federal laws mandating that platforms keep or catalog political advertisements (Meta does this of its own accord). This makes it much harder for researchers and watchdogs to grasp the true impact of how many people are exposed to political or partisan messaging.

PragerU was the 12th highest political ad spender on Meta between May 2018 and August 2023—outspending many political campaigns, according to MMA’s analysis. Posting content on social media—including YouTube, Twitter, and Meta’s platforms—has been key to disseminating their message.

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