At long last, Facebook is putting one of its transparency principles into practice, requiring all political advertisers disclose their identity and personal address to Facebook, and disclose their funding source to the public.
The program is currently limited to political and issue ads in the US, meaning that advertisers hoping to influence elections in other regions need not change their strategy just yet. However, Facebook promises that the policy will be expanded to the rest of the world “in the coming months.”
“In order to get your Page authorized to run political ads, we need to know that there’s a real person who has US residency who is responsible for the Page, and we need to know who’s funding the political ads,” the company states in its Facebook political ads guidelines.
Advertisers that abide by this new policy will see their political ads displayed as normal, but with a header declaring the ad to be a “Political Ad,” and a disclaimer displaying the ad’s source of funding “as provided by the advertiser.”
“We’re making these changes to increase ad transparency and as part of our election integrity efforts on Facebook and Instagram,” the company declared, but as its new policy operates at the moment, it’s doubtful that it will have any substantive effect on Facebook political ads.
To start, the authorization process only requires one of a Page’s admins to provide proof of US residency—a roadblock easily circumvented, given how simple it is to change Page administration privileges. Additionally, political ad funding disclosures are entirely self-reported and unverified by Facebook itself, meaning that users can easily just lie if they choose to.
“We’ll review your entry against our advertising policies, but you’re responsible for making sure your ad complies with any applicable law,” the company states.
Furthermore, the Facebook political ad disclaimer will not appear beside the post if it is shared organically, negating the original purpose of the disclosures if they are spread through word-of-mouth.
“An ad that a person sees and chooses to post is now a piece of organic content rather than an ad,” Facebook states.
All of these quibbles aside, Facebook’s new policy leaves doubts as to the effectiveness of a small header at mitigating the effectiveness and spread of vitriolic or misleading ads in the first place.
Overall, the new policy seems to be obeying the letter of election transparency law rather than the spirit, bringing Facebook legally in the clear without making much of a dent in the actual problem.