Facebook has a troubled past with politics. Many consider it to have played a role in perpetuating fake news during the 2016 US election, although its impact on the 2017 UK election is relatively negligible, and so the social media giant is trying to change its political image. Its solution: a change to its rules around political adverts.
Starting immediately, adverts submitted to Facebook engaging in political discourse or mentioning current events or issues will be flagged. The submitter must provide proof of identity, location of their company and disclose of who is paying for the advert. The submitter’s company must also be UK-based — no longer will Russians be able to sponsor adverts pertaining to other countries’ events.
Another new feature also launches alongside this update. Facebook users can now report political ads they deem “fake news”, that’s to say – if they believe the page is distributing incorrect information for political means. However, due to the notorious echo chamber effect of political discourse on social media, it remains to be seen how many people will ever see ads they disagree with anyway.
Facebook has also created an archive of all political adverts on the platform, charting the outreach, sponsor and cost of previous adverts placed by groups. The archive also details if an ad is currently active, if it’s had different versions, and if it’s been reported as inaccurate by users.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because this feature has already been made available to Facebook users in the US or Brazil, where it launched in anticipation of elections.
What Facebook deems as “political” remains to be seen, however. While many adverts on the archive regard the policies of Congressmen or Trump, others are about the environment and wildlife, which many would argue isn’t simply a political concern.
In the last few months, Facebook has stepped up its political awareness by recinding offers to send employees to aid in political campaigns and banning many political accounts that spread fake news. The implementation of transparent political ads is only the most recent of many steps to mitigate claims of Facebook’s negative effects on elections.