It’s about to get harder to trick people with political ads on Facebook

Fixing things.
Fixing things.
Image: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer
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In the hope of avoiding future foreign meddling in elections, as was seen in 2016 US presidential campaign, Facebook announced today (April 6) some of its most significant efforts to date to boost transparency in political advertising. The moves come before CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before US lawmakers next week over a different scandal.

In October, Facebook said it would require advertisers running electoral ads to verify their identity and location. It will now extend that requirement to so-called “issue ads,” which aim to sway opinions on immigration, gun rights, the economy and other topics. Crucially, the company said it would now also verify the identity of administrators of pages with large followings, making it harder to run them from fake accounts. Facebook pages were used by Russian agents to spread misinformation during the 2016 election, according to the US Justice Department.

“These steps by themselves won’t stop all people trying to game the system,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his personal Facebook page. “But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads.”

Each electoral and issue ad will be labeled as “political” and will include information on who paid for it, which would be required by the Honest Ads Act, transparency legislation that has been introduced in Congress, a bill Facebook appears to be pre-empting with its new policies. Zuckerberg reiterated his support for the legislation in his post, although as Quartz has reported, the company has lobbied against it.

Facebook also said that a feature it has been testing in Canada, which allows users to see all the ads run by a given page in a separate tab—an experiment that critics have called insufficient and misleading—will be rolled out widely in June. At the same time, Facebook also plans to offer  a repository of all political ads along with information on the ads’ audience and money spent on it.

“In order to require verification for all of these pages and advertisers, we will hire thousands of more people. We’re committed to getting this done in time for the critical months before the 2018 elections,” Zuckerberg said in the post.

In the company’s announcement, VPs Rob Goldman and Alex Himel encouraged users to report malicious ads as they see them. Facebook has in the past brought in thousands of workers to moderate content and attempt to mitigate fake news on its platform.

All of these moves are sure to make Zuckerberg’s testimony in Congress on April 11 just a tad easier, allowing him to point to the company’s specific moves to fix the problems it has caused.