Facebook wants to make political ads more transparent ahead of Indian elections

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As India approaches its next general elections, Facebook says it is doubling down on transparency in political ads.

On Dec. 06, the social media giant said anyone who wants to run political ads in India will now have to first disclose their name and location, and provide more details about who placed the ad. Beginning early next year, all ads related to politics in India can only be run by authorised advertisers, and they will carry a disclaimer with information on who placed the ad. Facebook added that these ads would be recorded in its online searchable Ad Library, along with details on the budget behind them, and the demographics of who saw them.

“By authorising advertisers and bringing more transparency to ads, we can better defend against foreign interference in India’s elections,” Sarah Clark Schiff, product manager at Facebook, said in a post announcing the move.

The authorisation feature and Ad Library were first rolled out in the US, Brazil, and the UK. But an earlier report by Quartz found that Facebook had already begun taking down anonymous political ads in India. In October, its digital archive included several Indian ads that had been removed for not listing who paid for them. At the time, there were no clear standards for Indian advertisers, and Facebook had seemingly targeted a wide range of ads, including those for museums and even well-known charities.

The company’s latest efforts come as its reputation has taken a beating around the world in the wake of several scandals related to the unchecked spread of misinformation on its platform. In India, where fake news can kill, Facebook and WhatsApp, the messaging service it acquired in 2014, have increasingly come under fire for not doing enough to address the crisis.

In response, WhatsApp recently launched its first television ad campaign to raise awareness about the risks of forwarding fake news, after first taking out newspaper and radio ads. Some of the company’s executives also reportedly met with the Indian government to discuss allowing messages that cause public unrest to be traced, a move that if implemented would mark a significant shift after years of WhatsApp resisting calls to break its end-to-end encryption.

But whether Facebook’s authorised political ads will make a difference on the ground in India remains to be seen. As The Atlantic revealed in a report in October, companies in the US have already found ways to get around the system by using surrogate buyers.