The 2020 presidential election in the U.S. is 14 months away, but Facebook is continuing to take steps to prevent a repeat of the issues that plagued the social network in 2016.
Public policy director for global elections Katie Harbath and product manager Sarah Schiff outlined three policy changes in a Newsroom post last week: strengthening the authorization process for advertisers in the U.S., displaying more information about those advertisers and updating its list of social issues impacted by its regulations.
Facebook debuted transparency tools covering political and issue ads in the U.S. last May, and they were extended to the U.K. last November, India last December, the European Union in March, Australia in April and Canada in June.
The social network revealed in June that the tools would be extended worldwide, starting with Ukraine, Singapore, Canada (announced earlier that month) and Argentina.
Political advertisers in the U.S. were already required to confirm who they are and where they are located, as well as to include “Paid for by” disclaimers on political and issue ads. All of those ads are also being saved to Facebook’s Ad Library and made publicly available for seven years.
Starting in mid-September, in addition to providing information including a U.S. street address, phone number, business email and business website matching that email, political and issue advertisers will also need to have a tax-registered organization identification number (such as an Employer Identification Number), a government website domain matching an email ending in .gov or .mil or an ID number from the Federal Election Commission.
Facebook also took steps to ensure that advertisers lacking those credentials, such as smaller businesses or local candidates for office, are not excluded from the process, giving them the following two options: They can submit an organization name by providing a verifiable phone number, business email, mail-deliverable address and business website with a domain that matches the email; or they can rely solely on the legal name of the page administrator, in which case registered organization names cannot be used in disclaimers.
When advertisers choose one of those two options, the “i” icon on their ads will read, “About this ad,” instead of, “Confirmed Organization.”
Harbath and Schiff wrote that Facebook decided to require the additional information following “a number of cases” where political and issue advertisers attempted to include misleading disclaimers with their ads, adding, “While the authorization process won’t be perfect, it will help us confirm the legitimacy of an organization and provide people with more details about who’s behind the ads they are seeing.”
When users click on the “i” icon on political and issue ads, they will now be able to access more information, such as whether the advertiser used an EIN or FED ID number, as well as that organization’s phone number and email.
Harbath and Schiff wrote, “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.”
Finally, the social network is also revising its list of social issues in the U.S. to 10 categories from 20 distinct subject areas, “to better reflect the public discourse on and off Facebook,” as well as to bring the U.S. list in line with those from other countries that recently held elections.
Harbath and Schiff wrote, “The shift from 20 subjects to 10 categories does not mean that our authorization process will be less restrictive. We’ll continue to capture a range of topics encompassed by the 10 referenced categories. For instance, in the civil and social rights category, we will continue to proactively detect and review ads on topics like freedom of religion, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights.”
They added, “We have also improved our enforcement based on feedback. For example, in the case of ads that discuss, debate or advocate for environmental issues, ads that merely encourage people to recycle or highlight sustainable products won’t require these additional steps in order to run. If an ad goes further, however, and advocates for or against things like legislation or a ballot initiative, the authorization requirement will continue to apply. As noted, the categories are evolving, so even while we narrow the policy in some areas, we may expand it in others.”
Harbath and Schiff concluded, “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. We’ll continue to share updates as we take steps to protect people ahead of the 2020 U.S. election and beyond.”