Facebook is taking steps to further transparency efforts around political advertisements, in part due to the presence of Russian-funded ads around the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The platform, including subsidiary Instagram, has announced a plan to label all political advertisements in the United States with a bold tag including the name of the person or organization funding the ads.
Furthermore, users will be able to view information about why they’re seeing the advertisement, including the targeting options selected in the process, to know exactly who each advertiser is trying to reach.
What is “Political?”
The platform is also expanding how they define “political.” Unlike traditional TV advertisers, which are required to disclose the funders of campaign advertisements, Facebook will also be labeling and requiring disclosure on policy-related ads, specifically from twenty key top-level issues: abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.
Ad text, images, and the content of linked websites will all be used in determining the need for disclosure. Additionally, political advertisers will need to go through a special regulatory authorization process. If an advertiser attempts to run a political ad without previous authorization, the ad will be prohibited from going live. The approval process includes a variety of human vetting, as well as physical address verification to ensure the ads aren’t being purchased by non-U.S. parties.
“We won’t always get it right,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, and Steve Satterfield, the company’s public policy director. “We know we’ll miss some ads and in other cases we’ll identify some we shouldn’t. We’ll keep working on the process and improve as we go.”
Establishing a Public Archive
Political advertisements will also be added to a public archive, allowing users to search for content and disclosures by subject matter. Ads will be available for viewing by all users, regardless of how the ad was targeted – differing from non-political ads, where the advertiser can choose to only show their content to a group of users matching certain criteria. Ads will live in the archive for at least seven years.
For now, these measures are exclusive to the United States, though the company hopes to bring similar practices to other countries in the coming months.
“Deciding what is or is not a political issue is inherently controversial, and not everyone will agree with our approach,” said Karbath and Satterfield. “Others will continue to argue that we’d all be better off without these ads on Facebook. But we believe in giving legitimate campaigns a voice — while also helping to make sure that people can find out who is trying to influence their vote and why. We think this is a significant step toward that end.”