Facebook tightens political ad rules ahead of 2020 election

29 Aug 201995 Views

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Facebook's homepage on a tablet screen. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

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There are still concerns about the lack of transparency relating to political ads on Facebook.

On Wednesday (28 August), Facebook released a statement updating users on its new political advertising policy, which aims to minimise disinformation ahead of the presidential election that will take place in the US next autumn.

The statement, which was written by the company’s public policy director for global elections, Katie Harbath, and product manager Sarah Schiff, outlined steps the company is taking to strengthen the authorisation process for US advertisers.

It wasn’t until 2018 that Facebook introduced a process that requires advertisers to be authorised before running ads about social issues, elections or politics, but the company is now making the process for posting a political advertisement more stringent.

Earlier this week, Facebook was criticised by independent researchers attempting to study the role that Facebook plays in elections and democracy. A number of these researchers expressed frustration over the insufficient amount of data the company was providing to them.

As a result, a consortium funding the initiative threatened to pull support from the project if Facebook does not provide researchers with adequate data to conduct their studies by 30 September.

Verification

In the statement on Facebook’s change of advertising policy, Harbath and Schiff wrote: “Starting mid-September, advertisers will need to provide more information about their organisation before we review and approve their disclaimer.

“If they do not provide this information by mid-October, we will pause their ads. While the authorisation process won’t be perfect, it will help us confirm the legitimacy of an organisation and provide people with more details about who’s behind the ads they are seeing.”

Once the policy is introduced in September, advertisers will have five options to choose from for providing more information. Three of these options will demonstrate that they are registered with the US government.

This includes a tax-registered organisation identification number, a government website domain that matches an email ending in .gov or .mil, or a federal election commission identification number.

Advertisers will also have to provide their street address, phone number, business email and a business website matching the email. Facebook hopes that by asking users to provide this information, along with increased verification measures, it will prevent groups outside the US from interfering in the country’s elections.

If the three government resource options are chosen, advertisers will be able to use their registered organisation name in disclaimers and there will be an expandable disclaimer in the post that will label the advertiser as a ‘Confirmed Organisation’.

The company has also taken smaller businesses and local politicians into consideration, providing information on how they can confirm their identity on the platform.

Concerns

As detailed by the Washington Post, Facebook’s update to its political advertising policy won’t require advocacy organisations to submit more detailed information about their donors.

Facebook users who want to learn more about an unfamiliar political group or organisation will have to seek that information from the US government. The problem here is that the government has not updated its campaign-finance laws in a number of decades.

In Facebook’s statement, Harbath and Schiff acknowledged this and noted that Facebook does not have any legal right to verify information relating to donors. The company claims to be increasing pressure on the US government for “more regulation in this space”.

Many of Facebook’s previous attempts to crack down on disinformation on the platform have either failed or been criticised harshly by experts.

Vice News previously illustrated how journalists were able to manipulate the funding attribution on advertisements to create and upload ads that appeared to be funded by Mike Pence and the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, NBC News also recently discovered that a political advertiser had sidestepped Facebook’s rules to run ads under decoy company names.

Academics pointed out that the company’s advertisement archive, which was introduced to allow the public to analyse political ads, was riddled with bugs and technical issues.

Harbath and Schiff agreed that the tools released so far have not been perfect, but said the company aims to continuously learn from elections in the US and around the world.

Facebook’s homepage on a tablet screen. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com