Transparency: Facebook to force political ads to disclose funding sources

Ads on Facebook have been something of a controversial subject for some time now -- particularly with suggestions of Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. In its latest attempt to have a more transparent ad platform, the social network has announced a series of measures that will help people understand more about advertising.

All ads -- not just political ones -- are to be subject to extra transparency, with a new View Ads link making it possible to view all the ads a particular advertiser has placed. Political advertiser will face more stringent requirement. They must not only verify their identity, but also publicly disclose the source of funding for their ads.

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Rob Goldman, vice president of ads at Facebook, outlined the upcoming changes in a blog post saying: "people should be able to tell who the advertiser is and see the ads they're running." Starting with federal elections in the US, Facebook is going to require additional documentation from anyone wanting to run election-related ads. This requirement will spread over time.

Verified advertisers will also have to include a "Paid for by" section so visitors to the site are aware of the source of funding.

Of course, there is the risk that there will be political advertisers who try to sneak under the radar, but Facebook has a plan here: "we are building machine learning tools that will help us find them and require them to verify their identity," says Goldman.

Facebook is also introducing new rules that apply to all advertisers:

Starting next month, people will be able to click "View Ads" on a Page and view ads a Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger -- whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad. All Pages will be part of this effort, and we will require that all ads be associated with a Page as part of the ad creation process. We will start this test in Canada and roll it out to the US by this summer, ahead of the US midterm elections in November, as well as broadly to all other countries around the same time.

We know how important it is to our community that we get this feature just right -- and so we're first rolling it out in only one country. Testing in one market allows us to learn the various ways an entire population uses the feature at a scale that allows us to learn and iterate. Starting in Canada was a natural choice as this effort aligns with our election integrity work already underway there.

During the testing period, Facebook says that only active ads will be listed, but when the feature expands to the US and beyond, both currents and historical ads will be visible. Goldman also says:

In addition, for each federal-election related ad, we will:

  • Include the ad in a searchable archive that, once full, will cover a rolling four-year period – starting from when we launch the archive.
  • Provide details on the total amounts spent.
  • Provide the number of impressions that delivered.
  • Provide demographics information (e.g. age, location, gender) about the audience that the ads reached.

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