Facebook announces new ad transparency before Russia hearing

Facebook/Associated Press In the face of pending Senate legislation and congressional hearings on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, Facebook announced Friday it will begin verifying identities and locations of all buyers of political ads.

WASHINGTON — Under pressure ahead of hearings on Russian election interference, Facebook is moving to increase transparency for everyone who sees and buys political advertising on its site.

 

Executives for the social media company said Friday they will verify political ad buyers in federal elections, requiring them to reveal correct names and locations, and to create new graphics where users can click on the ads and find out more about who’s behind them.

More broadly, Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president in charge of ad products, said the company is building new transparency tools in which all advertisers –even those that aren’t political – are associated with a page, and users can click on a link to see all of the ads any advertiser is running.

Users also will be able to see all of the ads paid for by the advertisers, whether or not those ads were originally targeted toward them.

The move comes after the company acknowledged it had found more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia that focused on divisive U.S. social issues and were seen by an estimated 10 million people before and after the 2016 U.S. elections.

Facebook, Twitter and Google will testify in Congress Tuesday and Wednesday on how their platforms were used by Russia or other foreign actors in the election campaign. The Senate and House intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are all holding hearings as part of their investigations into Russian election interference.

Facebook’s announcement comes a day after Twitter said it will ban ads from RT and Sputnik, two state-sponsored Russian news outlets. Twitter also has said it will require election-related ads for candidates to disclose who is paying for them and how they are targeted.

Facebook’s Goldman said the company also will build a new archive of federal election ads on Facebook, including the total amount spent and the number of times an ad is displayed, he said. The archive, which will be public, would also have data on the audience that saw the ads, including gender and location information. The archive would eventually hold up to four years of data.

Goldman said the company is still building the new features and plans to roll them out in the U.S. before the 2018 midterm elections.

Facebook announced in September that the platform would require an advertiser to disclose who paid for the ads and what other ads it was running. But it was unclear exactly how the company would do that.

The moves are meant to bring Facebook in line with what is required of print and broadcast advertisers. Federal regulations require TV and radio stations to disclose the details of political ads they air. That includes who runs the ad, when it runs and how much it costs.

It is also likely meant to head off bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would require social media companies to keep public files of election ads and try to ensure they are not purchased by foreigners. Though Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democratic co-sponsor of the legislation, has said his bill would be “the lightest touch possible,” social media companies would rather set their own guidelines than face new regulation.

 

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