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Facebook tightens up rules for political advertising

April 7, 2018

The social media network says it will tighten the verification process for ad buyers after the Russia influence scandal. Moscow-sponsored groups used fake profiles to run divisive ads before the US presidential election.

Social media users stand in front of the Facebook logo
Image: Reuters/D. Ruvic

Facebook will require the buyers of political ads to notify the social media platform about who is paying for the messages, the company said on Friday.

Advertising that includes campaigns from specific candidates or public issues will have to go through a more detailed verification process to identify the buyer and their location.

Those who manage popular pages on the site will also face greater scrutiny.

The company said the measures are being introduced to prevent the interference of election campaigns worldwide, after Russian-sponsored groups manipulated social media platforms to swing the 2016 US presidential election.

Read more: Facebook scandal: Data scraping knows no borders

US investigators accuse Moscow of using online information warfare to ensure Donald Trump’s campaign was seen in a more favorable light by voters, although neither White House candidate was ever mentioned in the ads. Thirteen Russians and three Russian companies have been charged in connection with the probe.

Political ads could be blocked

Facebook said the new rules will be introduced in the US first before being rolled out globally, and those that do not meet the criteria will have their ads blocked.

The new steps "by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system," Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his own platform.

"But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads."

He said Facebook will hire “thousands of more people” to put the new system in place before the US midterm elections in November.

Read more: Could departing advertisers kill Facebook?

Facebook reveals more affected in data breach

Facebook continues to hit the headlines over concerns that its meteoric rise over the past decade has led to a media platform that is all too powerful.

Last month, it admitted it had "improperly shared" the personal data of 87 million users, without their consent, to support the campaign for Britain's exit from the European Union, as well as US President Donald Trump’s election bid.

Zuckerberg to face lawmakers

The new measures were announced just a few days before Zuckerberg is due to appear before the US Congress to be questioned about how the company handles its users' data.

Specifically, US lawmakers will demand answers about why it was possible for the British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which is also implicated in the scandal, to harvest so much data.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie told a British newspaper about the data breach by political firm Cambridge AnalyticaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Uncredited/PA

Read more: Facebook to change privacy controls amid data scandal outcry

Last month, a former contractor with the firm revealed details of the data misuse to Britain’s Observer newspaper. Channel 4 News later interviewed executives from Cambridge Analytica, who boasted about how they could use social media, honey traps and bribery to discredit political rivals.

Facebook’s chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg was asked by US network NBC if other data misuse could be expected.

More data misuse likely

"We're doing an investigation, we're going to do audits and yes, we think it's possible, that's why we're doing the audit," she said.

But she insisted in a separate interview with US public broadcaster NPR that the firm had learned lessons from the scandals.

The US Congress introduced the Honest Ads Act last October, seeking to counter attempts to influence the US electorate through social media. However, the legislation has not yet been passed.

Under the Act, digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly views would need to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by anyone spending more than $500.

The legislation would also require online platforms to make "all reasonable efforts" to ensure that foreign nationals and entities are not buying political ads to influence US voters.

mm, bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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