In a preemptive effort designed to enhance transparency for the upcoming 2020 elections, Facebook has announced that it will strengthen its digital advertisement program rules for political ads to increase disclosure requirements for advertisers using the platform. The decision comes after months of scrutiny from Congress and growing public concern over the use of Facebook’s platform by foreign actors to spread political misinformation during the course of the 2016 election cycle.
The 2016 presidential election saw a record amount of digital political advertising across the country, with the majority of spending going toward major technology players such as Facebook and Google. With multiple congressional investigations and the report of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller verifying that foreign actors took advantage of these platforms to spread misinformation via targeted political advertisements leading up to the 2016 election, technology companies are under mounting pressure to take action to combat the spread of misinformation.
With this goal in mind, Facebook’s new digital advertisement review program guidelines will implement more stringent transparency rules for advertisers seeking to purchase ad space on the social media platform. The newly adopted procedures will require advertisers to supply significantly more information about their organization during the purchasing process than what the company has previously required. Moving forward, when securing ad space, advertisers will be required to provide information such as a U.S. street address, phone number, business email and business website matching the listed email – all information that indicates the existence of a legitimate domestic enterprise.
Additionally, Facebook is implementing new disclaimer requirements in order to improve transparency surrounding ‘Paid for by’ disclaimers. Under the company’s new policy, advertisers will be required to provide organizational information that will be used to create an information field – or “i” icon that appears on a posting – and allow site users to confirm that the organizations are legitimate actors. As part of this change, Facebook has also announced new guidelines for advertisers who wish to be certified as a ‘Confirmed Organization’ on the social network. In order to be recognized as the most trusted ‘Confirmed Organization’, advertisers must provide a tax ID number, Federal Election Commission (FEC) ID number, or a government website domain that matches an email ending with a government (.gov) or military (.mil) email line.
While Facebook has taken this first step toward revamping its internal political advertising policies and disclosure requirements, it is difficult to predict the full impact this change will have during the 2020 federal election cycle. Just as digital political advertising and marketing have outpaced the regulatory efforts of federal and state lawmakers across the country, so has it (to a lesser degree) outpaced the transparency and disclosure actions of the private platforms themselves. Once can likely expect the same in the current cycle, but Facebook’s new policy still represents an important first move by Silicon Valley to dissuade foreign and other bad actors from poisoning the well of political discourse heading into 2020.
As election season heats up next year, Dentons expects to see more changes to social media and technology companies’ digital advertisement policies and will endeavor to keep our readership posted.