Facebook continues its PR drive and tightens policies on verifying political advertisers

The latest announcement is the latest in a series of PR efforts from the social network

Facebook closed out its week-long PR drive with a statement clarifying that it would further tighten policies around verifying the identity of those looking to show political ads on the social network, a move that comes in the wake of the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal.

An announcement made today (April 6) by Rob Goldman, vice president of ads, and Alex Himel, vice president of local pages, states that it will now only allow verified advertisers to run “issue ads” – i.e., those of a political nature – on the social network, including picture-sharing service Instagram.

The move builds on its October 2017 pledge to clamp down on political ads on the social network with the latest measure including investments in artificial intelligence (AI) to help find advertisers that should have gone through the authorization process but did not.

Also, political ads on the social network will now be more clearly labeled as such, and also contain the (verified) identity of the party that paid for the placement.

“We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time, reads the official blog post. “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."

The moves come after Facebook was forced to answer questions after it conceded that multiple “inauthentic” ads from Russian accounts spent as much as $100,000 in the run-up to the US presidential race in 2016.

Legislators responded by introducing the Honest Ads Act, and publicly grilled the legal counsel of some of Silicon Valley’s largest digital platforms.

The proceedings heard Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, quip that: “I find your power breathtaking, and I don’t believe you have the ability to determine the identity of all your advertisers, you're good, but you’re not that good.”

It also comes as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg prepares to appear in front of Congress to answer questions on the matter. In what could be interpreted as a dress rehearsal for the proceedings, due to take place on April 10 and 11 in Washington, DC, he faced questions on the recent controversies from the world’s media in an impromptu press conference hosted earlier this week.

“Our product is challenging to manage and operate, and about the trade-offs about managing the people and the business, those are quite easy: over the long term the business will be better if you serve people,” he said while under questioning from journalists.

Earlier in the week, Facebook also made good on its promise to advertisers over third-party verification of ads on the social network by confirming that it had received accreditation by the Media Ratings Council (MRC).

This included accreditation over the viewability of newsfeed ad impressions on both the web and in-app, and that it will also begin proceedings for a “two-second audit” to receive further accreditation from the MRC.

Brad Smallwood, vice president of marketing science, added: “We recognize the industry's desire for more independent third-party validation, so this is welcome progress. We look forward to continuing our verification work with the MRC.”

Elsewhere, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg went in front of the cameras to stress that Facebook did not sell user information, although she did hasten to stress just how important the data held on its 2 billion users was to its operations.

"Our service depends on your data’, Sandberg confirmed. Adding: ‘We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product," she said.

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