Facebook on Thursday introduced new transparency rules for paid political advertisements as part of its efforts to protect election integrity in the wake of Russians exploiting its platform during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
“Advertisers placing political ads are now required to verify their identity and location,” Facebook said in a statement. “Once authorized, their ads will appear with a label in News Feed, disclosing who paid for the ad from the advertiser, and be available in a searchable archive for up to seven years.”
The new policy is among “a number of steps that we’re taking to protect elections from bad actors on our platform,” said Steve Satterfield, a director on Facebook’s policy team, who called the initiative one of several being implemented “to create a robust approach to protecting election integrity.”
“Simply put, we think ads should be transparent,” Mr. Satterfield said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “You should be able to understand who’s showing you ads, and you should see what other ads that advertiser is running.”
Less than six months until the November midterms, Facebook’s latest effort to increase transparency comes as social networks continue to reel from being exploited as part of Russia’s alleged state-sponsored attack on the 2016 race.
The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized an attack on the White House race subsequently carried out by Kremlin-linked operatives including employees of the Internet Research Agency. The IRA, a St. Petersburg “troll farm,” is accused of hiring people to interfere in the election over social media.
The Department of Justice has since filed criminal charges against the IRA’s alleged mastermind and several employees as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in the race.
The IRA “conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” the special counsel said in court filings, “… with the stated goal of ‘spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.’”
Facebook previously said that the IRA spent about $100,000 on over 3,000 ads displayed during the 2016 election and that its trolls had created some 80,000 posts published between 2015 and 2017.
Testifying before Congress last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the transparency rules ultimately launched this week while touting the Honest Ads Act. The bipartisan Senate bill requires major digital platforms to keep a public record of political advertisements bought by a purchaser who spends $500 or more on political ads within a 12-month span.
“What we’re doing is we’re going to verify the identity of any advertiser who’s running a political or issue-related ad — this is basically what the Honest Ads Act is proposing, and we’re following that,” Mr. Zuckerberg told lawmakers. “We support the Honest Ads Act. We’re implementing it.”