Facing mounting scrutiny of its advertising policies ahead of next year’s presidential election, Facebook is once again tightening its rules for ads relating to politics and social issues.
Those changes include an enhanced authorization process for U.S. advertisers and a commitment to provide greater disclosures about the individuals or organizations behind political ads on Facebook.
“People should know who is trying to influence their vote and advertisers shouldn’t be able to cover up who is paying for ads,” Facebook’s Katie Harbath and Sarah Schiff wrote in a blog post announcing the changes.
Facebook launched its formal vetting process for social and political adds in 2018, subjecting advertisers to an authorization process before their posts would show up on the site. That process also included disclosures in the form of a “Paid for by” disclaimer that would run along with the ad. Still, Facebook acknowledged that advertisers were supplying misleading information in an effort to conceal their identities.
So beginning around the middle of next month, Facebook will start requiring political advertisers to supply information to help verify their identities, such as a federal taxpayer identification number or a verifiable street address, phone number, email address and business website.
“While the authorization process won’t be perfect, it will help us confirm the legitimacy of an organization and provide people with more details about who’s behind the ads they are seeing,” Harbath and Schiff wrote.
Facebook has come under fire for lax policies that enabled millions of deceptive ads backed by shadowy foreign groups to appear on its site in the run-up to the 2016 election.
But Facebook is hardly the only platform that has been targeted by outside actors looking to influence U.S. elections. The Federal Election Commission has scheduled a day-long event Sept. 17 to focus on fighting disinformation in the election process, inviting representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter to attend, Politico is reporting.
“The goal of the symposium will be to identify effective policy approaches and practical tools that can minimize the disruption and confusion sown by fraudulent news and propaganda in the 2020 campaign,” reads the invitation from FEC chair Ellen Weintraub, according to Politico.
On Facebook, advertisers that choose one of three verification options that confirms a registration with the U.S. government (taxpayer ID, FEC number or government website domain), will show up on the site as “confirmed organizations,” and users will be able to tap or click the i icon next to the ad to see who’s behind it.
“This will allow people to confidently gauge the legitimacy of an organization and quickly raise questions or concerns if they find anything out of the ordinary,” wrote Harbath and Schiff.
Facebook is also updating its list of social issues that trigger the enhanced advertiser scrutiny, a project that it says will be ongoing to keep up with the evolving subjects of discussion on the site.
Indeed, in the face of a wide range of actors determined to meddle in U.S. elections, the fight against those disinformation campaigns is not so much a winnable battle as a game of cat and mouse, and Facebook knows it.
Harbath and Schiff promise that more updates to Facebook’s ad policies will be forthcoming, including tools to track the spending of the presidential candidates and an expansion on the prohibition against ads that discourage people from voting.
“While our efforts to protect elections are ongoing and won’t be perfect, they will make it harder for advertisers to obscure who is behind ads and will provide greater transparency for people,” they said.