If you’ve tuned out all things political, you’ve missed a growing problem of political advertising on social media. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Except that Facebook reported on Sept. 6 that it had found an operation likely based in Russia that spent $100,000 on thousands of US ads promoting divisive social and political messages over a two-year-period through May 2016. Zuckerberg has apologized, but probes are in the works by several congressional committees, along with the Department of Justice.
The Russian ads spread divisive views on immigration, race and gay rights
“For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better,” Zuckerberg said in the post. Facebook, still the dominant social media network, said 3,000 ads and 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages spread polarizing views on topics that included immigration, race and gay rights.
This brouhaha is a very big deal because of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, the appointment of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the ensuing investigation into the matter and the potential charges of obstruction of justice against Trump and members of his team.
As a result of the Russian takeover of the Facebook platform, Facebook now is testing a lengthier review process for ad campaigns that are using highly controversial topics to target an audience. Facebook now will request ad buyers for election-related topics to verify their identity, and they will include disclosures for each ad.
Implementing new changes will slow down the buying process
According to one political advertiser, Facebook is alerting ad buyers, letting them know that their campaigns might take longer than usual to run if its target audience is based on political, religious or social issues. Facebook has become a popular advertising platform because it provides the opportunity to drill down to rich demographic detail, including user interests.
“Ad sets that use targeting terms related to social, religious or political issues may require additional review before your ads start running . . . or you can adjust your detailed targeting elections.”
Tech companies testifying before Congress about Russian operatives’ use of their platforms
The notification comes right before attorneys from Facebook and other tech companies are scheduled to testify before Congress to talk about how Russian operatives might have used their platforms to sway U.S. voters during the 2016 presidential election. It also comes just days after a top lawmaker introduced a bill to require large tech companies to hold a database of political ad spending.
Facebook not alone in its efforts to become more transparent
As Facebook rolls out new oversight procedures and policies, Twitter is also stepping up its efforts to become more transparent. It will soon begin explaining to users who see political ads why they’re seeing them and who paid for them. An industry that was self-regulating will now fall under government regulation to avoid the kind of takeover of the platform that occurred during the runup to the 2016 election.