Facebook is looking to self-police itself by implementing parts of the proposed Honest Ads Act before the government tries to regulate it. To fight fake news and election interference, Facebook will require the admins of popular Facebook Pages and advertisers buying political or “issue” ads on “debated topics of national legislative importance” like education or abortion to verify their identity and location. Those that refuse, are found to be fraudulent, or are trying to influence foreign elections will have their Pages prevented from posting to the News Feed or their ads blocked.
Meanwhile, Facebook plans to use this information to append a “Political Ad” label and “Paid for by” information to all election, politics, and issue ads. Facebook started the verification process this week, users in the U.S. will start seeing the labels and buyer info later this spring, and Facebook will expand the effort to ads around the world in the coming months.
“These steps by themselves won’t stop all people trying to game the system. 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” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook. “Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act. This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”
The move follows Twitter’s November announcement that it too would label political ads and show who they were bought by.
Facebook announced in October it would require documentation from election advertisers and label their ads, but now is applying those requirements to a much wider swath of ads that deal with big issues impacted by politics. That could protect users from disinformation and divisive content not just during elections, but any time bad actors are trying to drive wedges into society. Facebook wouldn’t reveal the threshhold of followers that will trigger Pages needing verification but confirmed it will not apply to small-to-medium size businesses.
By self-regulating, Facebook may be able to take the wind out calls for new laws that apply buyer disclosure rules on TV and other traditional media ads to online ads. Zuckerberg will testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on April 10, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11. Having today’s announcement to point to could give him more protection against criticism during the hearings.