First Twitter, Now Facebook: Company Introduces New Political Ad Transparency Policy

Facebook must’ve seen this tweet, published three days ago by a ProPublica journalist after Twitter unveiled a sweeping new transparency policy that included new disclosure rules for “political” and “issues-based” ads…

…because Mark Zuckerberg’s social-media behemoth on Friday announced a virtually identical policy requiring more detailed disclosures not just for political and issues-based ads, but all ads being run by a given page.

Like Twitter, Facebook is trying out its policy in a test market (Facebook’s test market is Canada) before rolling it out in the US and worldwide. The policy, Facebook noted, will be in effect before the 2018 mid-term election.

During the initial test, Facebook will only show active ads. However, when it expands to the US, it plans to begin building an archive of federal-election related ads so that it can show both current and historical federal-election related ads. In addition, for each federal-election related ad, Facebook plans to….

  • 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.

In addition, buyers of political ads will need to complete an enhanced verification process.

As Joel Kaplan mentioned, we’re going to require more thorough documentation from advertisers who want to run election-related ads. We are starting with federal elections in the US, and will progress from there to additional contests and elections in other countries and jurisdictions. As part of the documentation process, advertisers may be required to identify that they are running election-related advertising and verify both their entity and location.


Once verified, these advertisers will have to include a disclosure in their election-related ads, which reads: “Paid for by.” When you click on the disclosure, you will be able to see details about the advertiser. Like other ads on Facebook, you will also be able to see an explanation of why you saw that particular ad.

And like Zuckerberg said in September, Facebook is developing machine learning tools to root out potentially fraudulent ad purchases in an attempt to crack down on the type of behavior that resulted in Facebook selling $100,000 in political ads to a reportedly Russia-linked troll farm.

The announcements comes as Facebook’s general counsel (along with his counterparts at Twitter and Google)  is preparing to testify next week before a joint meeting of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

As we’ve noted in the past, this policy represents a dramatic reversal of the company’s efforts to avoid exactly these types of disclosures. Back in 2011, the company hired Clinton attorney Marc Elias, who successfully lobbied the FEC to exempt Facebook from adding disclaimers to political ads, setting a legal precedent that equated social-media ads with campaign buttons and bumper stickers.

Now, we wait to hear from Google. But in the meantime, screenshots of the disclaimers are beginning to surface…



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