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Facebook Plans to Increase Transparency in its Role in Political Ads

Facebook Plans to Increase Transparency in its Role in Political Ads

Saturday, 28 October, 2017 - 09:15
The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo February 1, 2017. (Reuters)

Facebook announced on Friday that it will exert greater efforts to uncover supporters of political advertisements in an attempt to improve transparency amid criticism of its role in the 2016 US election and Russia’s alleged meddling.

Facebook will begin testing and refining political ad transgressions tools next month.

The testing will take place in Canada and the social media network plans on having the platform in place in the US before next year’s elections.

Facebook Vice President Rob Goldman said in a blog post: "Transparency helps everyone, especially political watchdog groups and reporters, keep advertisers accountable for who they say they are and what they say to different groups.”

He explained that people will be able to click "view ads" on a page to determine the source.

"People should be able to tell who the advertiser is and see the ads they’re running, especially for political ads, That level of transparency is good for democracy and it's good for the electoral process."

The archive, beginning with ads carried in 2018, will cover a rolling four-year period, Goldman said.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg stated in a separate post this is more transparency than required for other media.

"We're making all ads more transparent, not just political ads," he added.

Moreover, he noted that political advertisers "will now have to provide more information to verify their identity."

Facebook in September announced a plan to increase "transparency" regarding political advertising and hire more than 1,000 people to thwart deceptive ads crafted to knock elections off course including "dark" messages crafted for specific demographic groups but invisible to others.

Facebook has turned over to Congress some 3,000 Russia-linked ads that appeared to use hot-button issues to turn people against one another ahead of last year's US election.

Congress is scheduled to meet next week to address the issue.

Facebook's second-ranking executive, Sheryl Sandberg, has acknowledged that "things happened on our platform in this election that should not have happened, especially foreign interference."

According to Facebook, some 10 million people may have viewed the ads placed by a Russian entity that appeared aimed at sowing division and mistrust.

Some 470 accounts spent a total of approximately $100,000 between June 2015 to May 2017 on ads that touted fake or misleading news, according to Facebook.

Twitter this week unveiled similar steps that will disclose the sources of political ads. The messaging platform separately said it would ban ads from Russia-based RT and Sputnik, accused of spreading disinformation during the 2016 campaign.

Internet political ads have boomed in recent years as US politicians looked for different ways to reach potential supporters, and as companies including Facebook have created tools to allow targeted marketing.

Online ads, though, are generally viewable only to the intended audience, raising concerns among transparency advocates, researchers and lawmakers about how to hold politicians accountable for what they say.

In June, Facebook told Reuters that it would go on treating political ads like all others and that creating an online repository would violate the confidentiality of those advertisers.

Since then, Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have all said that Russia-based operatives bought ads and used fake names on their services to spread politically divisive messages in the months before and after the 2016 US election.

Moscow has denied interfering in the election.

Next week, general counsels for Facebook, Google and Twitter will testify before public hearings of three US congressional committees about the alleged interference and proposed legislation to require them to disclose election-related ads.

Facebook said its archive will eventually expand beyond the United States and show ads from elections in other countries and jurisdictions.

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