Facebook announces major transparency initiative for ads and pages

6 Apr 2018

Facebook app. Image: Allmy/Shutterstock

Facebook is making big changes to its advertising and pages policies.

The past several weeks have been fraught for Facebook as it continues to deal with the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. The scandal added to the issues of a company that had been marred in the months previous by discovery of political interference thriving on its platform – along with those of other tech giants.

The cumulative effect of these incidents is causing many to question the governance and policies at Menlo Park and elsewhere.

In response, a variety of changes have debuted and statements have been made by Facebook executives in order to take responsibility for the billions of users using the social network.

The latest change promises a more straightforward experience for users viewing ads on the platform.

Building authentic ads

Today (6 April), Facebook announced it is making a concerted effort to build a more transparent platform based on authenticity.

Rob Goldman, vice-president of ads, and Alex Himel, local and pages VP, wrote: “We believe that when you visit a page or see an ad on Facebook, it should be clear who it’s coming from. We also think it’s important for people to be able to see the other ads a Page is running, even if they’re not directed at you.

“That’s why today we’re announcing important changes to the way we manage ads and pages on Facebook as well as Instagram. These are designed to increase transparency and accountability, as well as prevent election interference.”

The company will be expanding the authorisation process for political advertisers to include ads that focus on issues, like reproductive rights or housing. Starting in the US, advertisers who wish to run political ads will need to confirm their identity and locations. This will expand to other countries in the months to come, however, it has been confirmed that the system will not be rolled out in Ireland in time for the referendum set to take place on 25 May 2018.

Advertisers that don’t pass muster will be banned from running political ads until they can be authorised.

Political ads will be flagged

Users seeing these ads will notice a ‘Political Ad’ disclaimer in the top left corner of said ad, with information about who paid for it also included. US users will see this change first later in the spring.

A public, searchable public ads archive is also in the works, to be introduced in June. The archive will contain every ad labelled as a political ad and information on the amount spent on each ad and demographic details, as well as the image and text of the ad itself.

This feature builds on the ‘view ads’ feature being tested by Facebook in Canada, which launches globally this summer, allowing people to see the ads a particular page is running. This applies to all advertiser pages.

Page authorisation

People who manage pages with large follower counts will need to be authenticated. Those who cannot complete the process will then be prevented from posting.

Additional context about pages will be surfaced by Facebook to give them more information, which will help the average user to assess the page and the content on it. For example, the name change history of pages will be logged and available to view.

Goldman and Himel added that Facebook was increasing its investment in technology-based detection methods: “We’re also investing in artificial intelligence and adding more people to help find advertisers that should have gone through the authorisation process but did not.

“We realise we won’t catch every ad that should be labeled, and we encourage anyone who sees an unlabeled political ad to report it. People can do this by tapping the three dots at the top right corner of the ad and selecting ‘Report Ad’.”

Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the steps alone “won’t stop all people trying to game the system, But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads”.

“Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act. This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”

Facebook app. Image: Allmy/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects