Facebook is stepping up its efforts to fight fake news and political misinformation, with new controls intended to ensure authenticity and transparency among advertisers and publishers on the site.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post shortly after the moves were announced: “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.” He also threw his company’s support behind the Honest Ads Act, a US Senate bill: “Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform … This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.”
The measures build on a plan, announced last October, to require American political advertisers to undergo an authentication process and reveal their affiliation alongside their adverts.
Now, the company says, that process will be rolled out worldwide – and also extended from covering solely political ads to the fuzzier category of “issue” advertising.
“Today’s updates are designed to prevent future abuse in elections,” the Facebook executives Rob Goldman and Alex Himel said in a blogpost, “and to help ensure you have the information that you need to assess political and issue ads, as well as content on pages”.
All the vetted ads “will be clearly labelled in the top left-hand corner as ‘Political Ad’”, Goldman and Himel said. “Next to it we will show ‘paid for by’ information,” to let users know the source of the message.
Facebook added: “We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time. To get authorised by Facebook, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location. Advertisers will be prohibited from running political ads – electoral or issue-based – until they are authorised.”
The change will help tackle concerns such as those raised around the Irish abortion referendum, in which there has been widespread Facebook advertising from groups with little transparency around their funding, motive or even location.
It also more directly addresses the misinformation tactics of the Russian “troll farm”, the Internet Research Agency, which was disclosed last year to have bought a number of Facebook adverts in an attempt to sway the US election.
However, many of those adverts carried little political content, instead primarily aiming to inflame the debate by, for instance, linking the Black Lives Matter group to police murders, or promoting counter-protests against the Westboro Baptist church.
Facebook’s latest move comes a month after Elizabeth Denham, the UK information commissioner, suggested social networks may be forced to reveal detailed information about how and why users were targeted for political advertising.
“Our intention is to be able to pull back the curtain and to be able to explain and expose for the public, for parliamentarians, for civil society, what happens with their personal information in the context of political advertising and political messaging,” she said. Despite Facebook’s forthcoming changes, that desire remains unmet.
Separately, the social network will also be rolling out the same authentication process to the administrators of “large” Facebook pages. The company would not say how big a page had to be to qualify as large, but confirmed that when a page reached a certain size, its moderators would have to prove their name and location were truthful, or risk losing their rights to post to the page.
That new requirement will launch alongside a set of features intended to preserve user trust in Facebook publishers: for instance, the history of a Facebook page will now be visible, and users will be notified if a page they have liked changes its name. The change aims to stop a common tactic whereby a page boosts its likes through viral content, before changing its name and aim in order to capitalise on its following.
“This will make it much harder for people to administer a page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies,” Goldman and Himel said. “We will also show you additional context about pages to effectively assess its content. For example, you can see whether a page has changed its name.”
The move is likely to prove controversial among users, many of whom are still pushing back against Facebook’s general “authentic name policy”, which bans people from using pseudonyms on the site.