The director of UK fact-checking charity Full Fact has welcomed Facebook’s pledge to increase transparency around political advertising on its platform as “good news”.
Will Moy told Press Gazette ahead of July’s election campaign that so-called “dark ads” were greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation.
Using Facebook’s ability to target users based on the information they share, political organisations can currently advertise to specific groups with only the targeted users able to see the advert.
Moy told Press Gazette: “If you run an advert on Facebook and only show it to people in certain areas and tell them one message, then you can run an advert for people in a different part of the country and tell them the exact opposite.
“That’s the problem with highly targeted advertising – we don’t know if campaigns are saying the same thing to people or if they are saying different things.”
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerburg announced on Thursday that the social media giant will make it possible for users to see all of the adverts being run on Facebook by an advertiser.
The action seems to have been prompted by fears of Russian influence in last year’s US presidential election which Facebook is working with the US government to investigate, according to Zuckerberg.
He said: “Going forward – and perhaps the most important step we’re taking – we’re going to make political advertising more transparent.
“When someone buys political ads on TV or other media, they’re required by law to disclose who paid for them. But you still don’t know if you’re seeing the same messages as everyone else. So we’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency.
“Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook.
“We will roll this out over the coming months, and we will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads.”
Moy said in a blog post that while the UK has laws to ensure the organisations behind adverts are known, these do not apply online.
He said: “How much good this announcement does will depend on the details. The Facebook announcement does not tell us:
- “Whether advertising information will be published in formats computers can read. We already have advertising by bot, we must be able to have accountability by bot too.
- “Whether that information on how political adverts are targeted will be public. This is vital. It matters enormously how many people are seeing an advert, and sometimes which people matters too.
- “Who counts as a ‘political’ advertiser.
“Now that Facebook has acted, the biggest question is how a multinational company has done more than the British parliament to safeguard our democracy.
“Protections like these should be scrutinised by MPs and written in law, not in the terms and conditions of the internet platforms.”
Picture: Reuters/Thomas White