Ahead of the 2020 elections, Facebook today announced it’s tightening requirements for groups buying political ads on the social network. The company last year began requiring advertisers get authorized to run ads about social issues, elections, or politics, which involves advertisers providing identification to confirm who they are and where they’re located — including a U.S. street address, phone number, business email and website matching the email. Starting in mid-September, Facebook says advertisers will now need to submit more information about their organization in order to run political ads.
Failure to submit this information will see their ads paused, the company says.
There are five options for submitting more information, three of which will confirm the advertiser is registered in some way with the U.S. government. This includes submitting a tax-registered organization identification number (EIN); a government website matching an email ending in .gov or .mil; or a Federal Election Commission (FEC) identification number.
By submitting this information, Facebook will label the advertiser a “Confirmed Organization” in its ad archive. The advertiser will also be allowed to use their registered organization name in the ad disclaimers and the “i” icon that appears on the upper-right hand corner of the ad will read “Confirmed Organization.”
For smaller businesses or local politicians who want to run ads about social issues, elections, or politics, they can choose to submit one of two other options instead: an organization name with a verifiable phone number, business email, mail-deliverable address and business website with a domain matching the email; or they can provide no organizational information and use the Page Admin’s legal name on their personal information document.
In either of these two cases, the “i” icon on the ad will read “About this ad” instead of “Confirmed Organization.”
Facebook says this “i” icon is how people will be able to see who is trying to influence them through the ad.
“Now, with one tap, people will not only see information about the ad, but they’ll be able to see the information Facebook confirmed, such as whether an advertiser used an EIN or FEC identification number. This will allow people to confidently gauge the legitimacy of an organization and quickly raise questions or concerns if they find anything out of the ordinary,” the company explained in a blog post announcing the changes.
Despite Facebook’s rule around political ads, the company admitted that there have been several cases where advertisers attempted to put out misleading “Paid for by” disclaimers on their ads.
VICE, for example, demonstrated how easy it was to manipulate the system by placing ads on behalf of VP Mike Pence, DNC Chairman Tom Perez, and the Islamic State, which Facebook approved. Business Insider also ran fake ads pretending to be Cambridge Analytica, which Facebook also approved.
More recently, Facebook banned conservative news outlet The Epoch Times from running ads on its platform because of ad policy violations. The organization had hidden under page names like “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism,” to bypass Facebook’s ad transparency system in order to run some $2 million worth of ads promoting the president and spreading conspiracy theories about his opponents.
In addition to the changes around the advertiser requirements, Facebook is updating its social issues list in the U.S. to include 10 categories, instead of 20 distinct subjects. This doesn’t represent a narrowing focus, but rather makes the categories themselves broader to encompass more topics. For example, the “Civil and Social Rights” category would include sub-topics like freedom of religion, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights.
The new categories were based on the issue lists in countries who recently held elections, Facebook says.
Facebook also will no longer require some environmentally-focused ads to submit these additional requirements, based on user feedback. This includes ads that “discuss, debate or advocate for environmental issues,” those that encourage recycling, or those highlighting sustainable products.
In the months ahead, Facebook says it will be updating its Ad Library to make it easier to track and compare U.S. presidential candidate spending, and it will expand its policy to prohibit ads that discourage people from voting.
It will turn its attention to Pages, too, by requiring national candidates or elected officials to go through Page Publishing Authorization, to verify their Pages are using real accounts and are based the U.S. Facebook will then begin exposing more information about the Page, including the business or organization behind it.
“We know we can’t tackle these challenges alone. That’s why we’re calling for sensible regulation and working directly with governments, watchdogs and regulators,” the company wrote in the blog post, referring to Mark Zuckerberg’s pro-regulation op-ed, which called for rules on Facebook’s terms. “While our efforts to protect elections are ongoing and won’t be perfect, they will make it harder for advertisers to obscure who is behind ads and will provide greater transparency for people.”
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