After Senators introduced new legislation intended to regulate advertising on social networks, Facebook has unveiled more details about their own attempts to enforce transparency in advertising on their platform.
Per TechCrunch, Facebook will be adding a "View Ads" section to all Facebook Pages, which will allow users to see a history of all ads that have been taken out by that Page. The history will cover "a rolling four-year period," which begins when the feature rolls out. Eventually, the View Ads section will also show how much money that advertiser has spent on ads, how many impressions a given had has gotten, and what demographics were targeted by the ad.
Facebook's new features seem similar to Twitter's new "Transparency Center," which also allows users on that network to access similar information regarding just about any ad on Twitter.
As well, Facebook is looking to vet and verify political advertisers, requiring those advertisers to share information about their location while acknowledging that their ad is election-related. Once an advertiser is verified as a political advertiser, their ads will then be marked with a "Paid for by" disclosure, similar to how political ads on television and radio are marked.
Vetting and verifying political advertisers seems like a step in the right direction, but by taking on that responsibility themselves, Facebook takes on the same potential liability that Twitter could be taking on with their similar changes. It would be up to them to decide who "qualifies" as a political advertiser, placing them in a gatekeeper role, as they would be deciding who gets to post what. Facebook hasn't done too well for itself in that regard in the past, as evidenced by their flawed "Real Name" policy rollout, which copped heated criticism after it closed the accounts of closeted LGBTQ individuals and drag queens who were using separate Facebook pages to protect their identities. Hopefully Facebook has learned its lesson in that regard, as failure here could mean government regulation.
To that end, though, Recode reports that Facebook denies that these changes were prompted by the new legislation. Rob Goldman, Facebook's VP of ads and pages, told them that they feel "strongly about what happened," and that they're "trying urgently to fix the problem." Additionally, Recode also points out that the changes probably won't stave off regulation, as they don't address so-called "issue-based ads" that focus on (you guessed it) polarizing issues that have divided the country over the past few years, including Black Lives Matter, immigration, gun control, LGBTQ rights, and bodily autonomy. The Washington Post reported on these ads, saying that Russian agents used them to "sow chaos" and promote "division within our society." While Facebook's changes curiously don't mention such ads, Twitter's does, though they don't exactly say what they're planning on doing about it.
The Hill says that Facebook will be using Canada as a "test market" for the new features, rolling out there first before potentially coming to the U.S. next summer. Goldman explained the selective rollout in Facebook's blog post detailing the changes. He wrote: "Testing in one market allows us to learn the various ways an entire population uses the feature at a scale that allows us to learn and iterate. Starting in Canada was a natural choice as this effort aligns with our election integrity work already underway there." The AP also spoke with Goldman, who said, "This is a good first step but it’s not at all the last step; there’s a lot to learn once we start testing."