May 24, 2018
By Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management

Shining a Light on Ads With Political Content

As we announced last month, we’re making big changes to the way ads with political content work on Facebook to help prevent abuse, especially during elections.

  • Starting today, all election-related and issue ads on Facebook and Instagram in the US must be clearly labeled – including a “Paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad. This will help ensure that you can see who is paying for the ad – which is especially important when the Page name doesn’t match the name of the company or person funding the ad.
  • When you click on the label, you’ll be taken to an archive with more information. For example, the campaign budget associated with an individual ad and how many people saw it – including their age, location and gender.
  • That same archive can be reached by anyone in the world at People visiting the archive can see and search ads with political or issue content an advertiser has run in the US for up to seven years.
  • Advertisers wanting to run ads with political content in the US will need to verify their identity and location.
We believe that increased transparency will lead to increased accountability and responsibility over time – not just for Facebook but advertisers as well. We’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to proactively identify abuse. But if you see an ad which you believe has political content and isn’t labeled, please report it. Tap the three dots at the top right-hand corner of the ad, select “report,” and then “it refers to a political candidate or issue.” Facebook will review the ad, and if it falls under our Political Advertising policy, we’ll take it down and add it to the archive. The advertiser will then be banned from running ads with political content until they complete our authorization process. And we’ll follow up to let you know what happened to the ad you reported. This is the tool that makes it easier for you to find problems, which we want. We invite you to report any ad so we get better, faster.

We know that outside experts, researchers, and academics can also help by analyzing political advertising on Facebook. It’s why we’re working closely with our newly-formed Election Commission and other stakeholders to launch an API for the archive.

We also recognize that news coverage of elections and important issues is distinct from advocacy or electoral ads, even if those news stories receive paid distribution on Facebook. We’re working closely with news partners and are committed to updating the archive to help differentiate between news and non-news content.

These changes will not prevent abuse entirely. We’re up against smart, creative and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as we spot abuse. But we believe that they will help prevent future interference in elections on Facebook. And it is why they are so important.

April 9, 2018
By Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy, and David Ginsberg, Director of Research

Facebook Launches New Initiative to Help Scholars Assess Social Media’s Impact on Elections

Today, Facebook is announcing a new initiative to help provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally. It will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

At the heart of this initiative will be a group of scholars who will:

  • Define the research agenda;
  • Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
  • Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.

Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication.

We’re excited about this initiative for two important reasons.

First, we think it’s an important new model for partnerships between industry and academia. Second, the last two years have taught us that the same Facebook tools that help politicians connect with their constituents — and different communities debate the issues they care about — can also be misused to manipulate and deceive.

We have made real progress since Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election in fighting fake news, as well as combating foreign interference, in elections in France, Germany, Alabama and Italy. But there is much more to do — and we don’t have all the answers. This initiative will enable Facebook to learn from the advice and analysis of outside experts so we can make better decisions — and faster progress.

In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook will invite respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections. The focus will be entirely forward looking. And our goals are to understand Facebook’s impact on upcoming elections — like Brazil, India, Mexico and the US midterms — and to inform our future product and policy decisions. The initial term of the commission will be one year and membership will be determined in the coming weeks. We are keen to have a broad range of experts — with different political outlooks, expertise and life experiences, gender, ethnicity and from a broad range of countries.

The commission will exercise its mandate in several ways:

Prioritization of research agenda. The research sponsored by this effort is designed to help people better understand social media’s impact on democracy — and Facebook to ensure that it has the right systems in place. For example, will our current product roadmap effectively fight the spread of misinformation and foreign interference? Specific topics may include misinformation; polarizing content; promoting freedom of expression and association; protecting domestic elections from foreign interference; and civic engagement. Commission members will learn about Facebook’s internal efforts related to elections, and source input from the academic community to determine the most important unanswered research questions. They will also begin to work with international experts to develop research evaluating Facebook’s impact in upcoming elections — with the goal of identifying and mitigating possible negative effects.

Solicitation of independent research. As the commission identifies areas to assess Facebook’s effectiveness, it will work with Facebook to develop requests for research proposals. In accordance with standard academic protocols, proposals will be subject to rigorous peer view. The peer review process will be managed by the Social Science Research Council, which is well placed to tap into the global network of substantive, ethical, and privacy experts. Based on input from the peer review process, the commission will independently select grantees who will receive funds from the supporting foundations, and, when appropriate, privacy-protected data from Facebook.

Providing access to information while protecting privacy. Once the commission identifies the most important questions, we are committed to helping grantees obtain the right data to answer them. Sometimes these datasets will come from Facebook, and sometimes they will come from other sources like surveys or focus groups.

Fundamental to this entire effort is ensuring that people’s information is secure and kept private. Facebook and our funding partners recognize the threat presented by the recent misuse of Facebook data, including by an academic associated with Cambridge Analytica. At the same time, we believe strongly that the public interest is best served when independent researchers have access to information. And we believe that we can achieve this goal while ensuring that privacy is preserved and information kept secure.

Any proposal submitted through this process must first have been reviewed by a university Institutional Review Board (IRB), or the international equivalent. And when Facebook data is requested, proposals will be subject to additional review by Facebook’s privacy and research review teams — as well as external privacy experts that the commission identifies. These reviews will help ensure that Facebook acts in accordance with its legal and ethical obligations to the people who use our service, as well as the academic and ethical integrity of the research process.

Facebook is building a dedicated team to work with the commission and academic researchers to develop the approved, privacy-protected datasets, which will be kept exclusively on Facebook’s global network of secure servers and subject to continuous audit. The commission will oversee publication, ensuring that only aggregated, anonymized results are reported. It will also develop a process to apply for data access for purposes of replication.

Independent and transparent reporting. Facebook and the foundations funding this project are committed to transparency around the rationale for the structure and membership of the commission. Once established, the commission will have the authority to regularly report on its activities and Facebook’s. This will include the decision-making criteria guiding both the research agenda and scholar selection. And the research coming from this initiative will be public, and Facebook will not approve it before it’s published.

Facebook plays an important role in elections around the world — helping people connect and discuss the important issues of the day. We were slow to spot foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, as well as issues with fake accounts and fake news. Our teams have made good progress since then. By working with the academic community, we can help people better understand the broader impact of social media on democracy — as well as improve our work to protect the integrity of elections.

Gary King of Harvard University and Nate Persily of Stanford Law School have been instrumental in developing this innovative model for academic collaboration. You can read more about their model here.

April 6, 2018
By Rob Goldman, VP, Ads and Alex Himel, VP, Local & Pages

Making Ads and Pages More Transparent

We believe that when you visit a Page or see an ad on Facebook it should be clear who it’s coming from. We also think it’s important for people to be able to see the other ads a Page is running, even if they’re not directed at you. That’s why today we’re announcing important changes to the way we manage ads and Pages on Facebook as well as Instagram. These are designed to increase transparency and accountability, as well as prevent election interference.

Increased Transparency and Accountability for Electoral and Issue Ads
Last October, we announced that only authorized advertisers will be able to run electoral ads on Facebook or Instagram. And today, we’re extending that requirement to anyone that wants to show “issue ads” — like political topics that are being debated across the country. We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time. To get authorized 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 authorized.

In addition, these ads will be clearly labeled in the top left corner as “Political Ad.” Next to it we will show “paid for by” information. We started testing the authorization process this week, and people will begin seeing the label and additional information in the US later this spring.

We’re also investing in artificial intelligence and adding more people to help find advertisers that should have gone through the authorization process but did not. We realize we won’t catch every ad that should be labeled, and we encourage anyone who sees an unlabeled political ad to report it. People can do this by tapping the three dots at the top right corner of the ad and selecting “Report Ad.”

View Ads and Searchable Political Archive
In Canada, we’ve been testing a new feature called view ads that lets you see the ads a Page is running — even if they are not in your News Feed. This applies to all advertiser Pages on Facebook — not just Pages running political ads. We plan to launch view ads globally in June.
In June we also plan to release a public, searchable political ads archive. This will contain all ads with the “Political Ad” label, and will show the image and text, as well as additional information like the amount spent and demographic audience information for each ad.

Increased Authenticity and Transparency for Pages
Today, we’re also announcing that people who manage Pages with large numbers of followers will need to be verified. Those who manage large Pages that do not clear the process will no longer be able to post. This will make it much harder for people to administer a Page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies. We will also show you additional context about Pages to effectively assess their content. For example, you can see whether a Page has changed its name.

Why We’re Doing This
We know we were slow to pick-up foreign interference in the 2016 US elections. Today’s updates are designed to prevent future abuse in elections — and to help ensure you have the information that you need to assess political and issue ads, as well as content on Pages. By increasing transparency around ads and Pages on Facebook, we can increase accountability for advertisers — improving our service for everyone.