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Facebook and Instagram crack down on shady political ads

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Facebook wants to make political ads more transparent.
Facebook wants to make political ads more transparent.

Image: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is taking new steps to make good on its promises to fight against election interference.

Today, the social network announced a series of changes to its ad policies that are meant to increase transparency around political ads.

Beginning today, Facebook and Instaram are requiring all U.S ads with any type of political content to be labeled with information on who paid for the ad. This includes not just campaign ads, but any type of ad that pertains to a political issue, such as tax policy or immigration.

Besides the disclosure on who paid for it, people who come across the ads will also be able to click into a dedicated archive with additional information about the advertiser, such as their age, location, and gender, as well as their budget for that campaign.

“Our ultimate goal is to help make sure people know who is trying to share messages with them as well as who is paying for them,” says Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government Outreach Director. 

The update comes just weeks after Congress released thousands of divisive political ads paid for by the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency. Those ads, meant to “sow discord” within the U.S. ahead of the 2016 elections, targeted people based on how they might respond to inflammatory ads on hot-button political issues.  

Now, Facebook’s hoping bad actors won’t be able to manipulate its system so easily. In addition to the required disclosures, the company’s forcing U.S advertisers to go through a verification process before they can run political ads.

Of course, defining what constitutes a political ad isn’t always straightforward. Facebook says it worked with an outside group, the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP), to come up with a list of 20 “issues” that qualify for the extra scrutiny, such as abortion, guns, immigration, and terrorism.

Those are all pretty broad categories, and Facebook says it will train human reviewers to distinguish between ads that have a political message and those that don’t (for example, ads for immigration attorneys wouldn’t count as political, but ads advocating changes to immigration policy would). Facebook and Instagram users can also manually report ads that aren’t labeled properly.

Though the new archive is available for anyone to view, the new policies for political ads only apply to the U.S. for now. The company says it plans to eventually implement these policies globally, but didn’t provide further details on timing. 

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