Facebook Will Now Require Authorization of Issues-Based Political Ads and Pages in the U.S.

Updates are rolling out later this spring

Sources: Facebook, Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Facebook will soon require political- and issues-based ads to receive verification before they’re served to users on the platform.

Today, the company said it will require advertisers to confirm the identity and location of the media buy before an ad runs. Additional changes will include requiring verification of people who manage large pages to make it harder to run pages from fake accounts, like the ones Facebook found operated by Russian operatives leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

"These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system."
Mark Zuckerberg

Starting this summer, ads will be labeled in the top left hand corner as a “political ad” with information next to the label showing exactly who paid for it. Testing began this week and will roll out more broadly in the U.S. later this spring before expanding internationally.

As part of the authorization process, page admins or account holders will have to submit a government-issued ID along with a physical mailing address. Advertisers will also have to disclose which candidate, organization or business they are representing with their ad buy.

While Facebook has not yet released which issues will require verification, the company said it’s developing a list alongside third parties that they will “refine over time.”

The changes, according to Facebook, are the next step in the company’s efforts to prevent foreign interference in elections at both a national, state and local level.

On a call with journalists earlier this week, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said elections-related efforts around the world will be a “major focus” for the company in 2018. He cited the U.S. midterms this fall, along with presidential elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and Hungary.

He said election interference is a “problem that’s bigger than any one platform,” adding that the company supports the Honest Ads Act. The bi-partisan legislation, introduced in Congress last fall, would require additional transparency to political ads bought on the largest online platforms.

One of the co-sponsors of the Honest Ads Act, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, praised Facebook for addressing issues-based ads. 

“Most of the paid ads the Internet Research Agency ran on Facebook prior to the 2016 election didn’t mention Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but they did mention divisive political issues like guns, LGBT rights, immigration and racial issues,” he said in a statement. “That’s why today’s announcement by Facebook is so important.”

“These steps by themselves won’t stop all people trying to game the system,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “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.”

Josh Nanberg, president of Amperstand Strategies, a political and media consultancy currently working on five Congressional races, said political ad buyers that are “honest about their motives” shouldn’t have any problem identifying themselves through Facebook’s verification process.

While Facebook is working with outside parties on its list of what’s considered a political ad, there might still be room for bias or loopholes around what’s included or not. He added that groups might be able to get around identifying with certain issues by digging into the cross-tabs of polls to guess that a voter might be interested in an issue based on their other interests.

Facebook's latest efforts are "necessary but not sufficient."
Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One

“If a gambling issue pops up over night but gambling isn’t on the list, the gambling ads are still the wild west,” Nanberg said. 

Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One—a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to limit campaign spending by large donors—said Facebook’s latest efforts are “necessary but not sufficient.” She said the U.S. still needs legislation that clearly states obligations placed on the online giants to make sure voters know exactly who is speaking to them.

“The bad news is that I fear they’re going to go down (to Washington) and say, ‘Oh these are all the good things that we’re doing, so don’t regulate us,'” she said.

Next week, Zuckerberg will travel to Washington, D.C., to testify in front of Congress about how British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to access information from what Facebook said was as many as 87 million accounts.

The meetings, on April 10 and 11, come less than six months after attorneys for Facebook, Google and Twitter met with Congress to explain Russian interference on their platforms.

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.