Facebook announced plans in April to increase accountability for political content, saying in a statement, “We believe that when you visit a Page or see an ad on Facebook it should be clear who it’s coming from.”
As part of this effort, Facebook launched a new ads transparency tool last week designed to prevent political abuse on the platform. Facebook is focusing on five main areas related to protecting election integrity, and increasing ads transparency is one. The other four include:
- Combating foreign interference
- Fighting fake accounts
- Boosting investments and security
- Reducing the spread of false news
Facebook is still under fire for the role it played in the 2016 presidential election, and has been rolling out a number of new privacy controls and policy changes. With the 2018 mid-term elections just a few months away, the company is facing intense public and media scrutiny.
What the Ads Transparency Tool Does
The new tool requires:
- All election-related and issue ads in the U.S. to be clearly labeled, including a “paid for by” tag from the advertiser at the top of the ad
- When you click on the “paid for by” label, you can access a searchable archive for more information about the ad and the advertiser. This archive will display an ad for seven years from when it runs, and feature data including how much money was spent, how widely it was seen and who saw it (by demographics like age, gender and location).
- Advertisers who want to run ads with political content in the U.S. to verify their identity and location
If you see an ad that you believe is political and isn’t properly labeled, you can report it for Facebook to review. If it violates Facebook’s political ad policy, the company will take it down, add it to the archive and ban the advertiser from running political ads until they complete the authorization process.
What Are Considered ‘Political Issues’?
An interesting part of Facebook’s new process is that it doesn’t apply just to clear-cut election ads promoting candidates but also to “top-level issues” of national importance. Starting May 7, 2018, Facebook has started requiring advertiser authorization and labeling for ads related to 20 wide-ranging issues:
- civil rights
- foreign policy
- government reform
- social security
Since this list covers such diverse topics, organizations – even those not related to politics – need to be aware of the new policy, in case their ads about the environment or education get flagged by mistake. The Verge reported about a few ads that have already been blocked as political content on Facebook, including a professor from the University of Pittsburgh advertising his book, Russians on Trump, and an independent journalist promoting a report on the Flint water crisis.
Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management, noted in a statement:
These changes will not prevent abuse entirely. We’re up against smart, creative and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as we spot abuse. But we believe that they will help prevent future interference in elections on Facebook. And it is why they are so important.
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