Facebook follows Twitter, unveils political ad ‘transparency’ ahead of Russia testimony

Facebook follows Twitter, unveils political ad ‘transparency’ ahead of Russia testimony
Facebook is joining Twitter in bowing to lawmakers demands for more information on political ads on social media platforms. The move comes as Silicon Valley prepares to testify before the Senate as part of Washington’s Russia investigation.

Rob Goldman, VP of Ads at Facebook, announced Friday that the company will soon allow users to view any ads a specific account is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, even if the user was not in the targeted audience for the ad.

During the test, Facebook will only allow users to see active ads, but the company will immediately begin archiving political ads related to federal elections.

Starting next month, users will be able to click a “View Ads” button, which will show them the amount of money spent on the ad, the number of impressions that ad received, and demographic information on users the ad reached.

Facebook will also require all political advertisers to provide more information to verify their entity and locations and include a disclosure that will show users who paid for the ad. All political ads will be labeled.

The service will launch in Canada starting next month, and will then be rolled out across the platform by this summer.

The announcement came days before executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are scheduled to testify before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

On Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) sent several letters to social media executives, including one to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, asking him to provide more documents to lawmakers ahead of the hearing. A similar letter was forwarded to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Feinstein asked for all ads and organic content posted by “Russia-connected users” that were targeted to any part of the US, regardless of whether the user violated the company’s policies.

The senator from California defined Russia-connected users as “any user of Facebook, whether a person or entity, that may be connected in some way to Russia,” including the user’s language setting, currency, and IP address.

Additionally, Feinstein asked Zuckerberg to disclose how Facebook identified the accounts and how they will continue to identify “inauthentic” accounts.

The same day, Zuckerberg posted a message on Facebook that said the tech company is adding “thousands” of people to their review teams and will start using machine learning to identify political ads in a similar way to how they handle spam.

In September, Facebook revealed that 470 “inauthentic” accounts spent $100,000 on 3,000 ads around the time of the 2016 election. The company said the accounts were “likely operated out of Russia.” They did not provide any evidence to support those claims, however.

The company later said that more than half of the ads that supposedly influenced the 2016 US elections were posted on the social media platform after the election was over. The social media giant also said that “25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone.”

After lawmakers introduced the Honest Ads Act last week, Zuckerberg added he would hold political ads on Facebook to a “higher standard of transparency,” specifically citing the fact that people who buy ads on TV and radio must disclose who paid for them.