Facebook’s new rules regarding disclosures for political ads take effect in the United States today, requiring election-related and issue ads to include information about who paid for them. A new “paid for” label will be visible at the top of ads on Facebook and Instagram, and clicking it will take you to a page with information about the cost of the ad and the demographic breakdown of the audience that saw it.
Advertisers will also have to verify their identity and location, a move that Facebook says will discourage foreign agents from attempting to interfere in outside elections. Facebook announced new rules around ad disclosures last year after revelations that Russians had illegally run ads on the platform during the 2016 US presidential election. The company began testing its new disclosure policies in Canada earlier this year.
Under the new policies, you’ll be able to see information about the age, location, and gender of the audiences for political ads. Among other things, this will let citizens and academic researchers examine how candidates for office appeal to different groups, and it will hold them accountable if they send conflicting messages. Facebook will store and make available the past seven years of political ads beginning when the new rules take effect. (You can see them at facebook.com/politicalcontentads.)
If you see an ad that you believe isn’t labeled but should be, you will be able to report it. Facebook says it will ban people who attempt to run political ads without first verifying their identities. Facebook created an initial list of 20 political issues that will require disclosures if they have the goal of influencing public debate, promoting a ballot measure, or electing a candidate. That list will expand and evolve over time, the company said.
Facebook built machine learning technology that can review both the text and images in political ads, it said. That same technology will examine the landing pages for outside websites if an ad attempts to send them there. Facebook will attempt to block ads from running automatically if the advertiser has not verified their identity.
Last month, Facebook announced the formation of an election commission that would let academic researchers analyze the content of political advertising on Facebook more easily. The company said today that it would create an API for the archive to help researchers sort through what promises to be a massive amount of data.
One unanswered question is how Facebook will handle news articles with political content that publishers pay to promote. Facebook signaled to publishers this month that those ads could fall under the new disclosure rules, drawing protests from publishing groups that said the labels would misrepresent journalism as paid propaganda. Facebook said today it was “working closely with news partners” and would “differentiate between news and non-news content” in its advertising archive.
“We think it’s important than any ad that mentions a candidate include this transparency and be available in the archive,” Steve Satterfield, director of public policy, told me during a call with reporters today.
Facebook executives said the moves would meaningfully restrict bad actors from interfering with foreign elections. But they warned that their strategies would likely evolve over time. “These changes will not prevent abuse entirely,” said Satterfield and Katie Harbath, global politics and government outreach director, in a blog post. “We’re up against smart, creative and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as and when we spot abuse. But we believe that they will help prevent future interference in elections on Facebook.”
The tools will roll out to additional countries in coming months, Harvath said.
The new disclosure requirements voluntarily implement some of the reforms called for in the Honest Ads Act, a bill introduced last year by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Facebook has endorsed the bill, but Congress has yet to hold a hearing on it.