Facebook clarifies ad rules for users following Russian propaganda and discrimination claims

Facebook has laid bare the principles that guide its advertising decisions following a series of headlines which have put the company in the spotlight, including Russian influence over the 2016 US election.

In the past few months alone, the company has also come under fire for seemingly allowing businesses to exclude individuals of certain beliefs and ethnicities from targeted campaigns, as well reportedly letting brands target teens based on psychological insights.

Writing in a blog post, Facebook's vice-president of ad products, Rob Goldman, said he thought now was the right time to share his firm's processes around advertising not only on Facebook, but also on Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

The announcement comes around one month after the social network confirmed to Congress that Russian agents posted nearly 80,000 pieces of divisive content to the site, which was viewed by around 29 million people between January 2015 and August 2017, and shared by millions more.

"You should be able to easily understand who is showing ads to you and see what other ads that advertiser is running," said Goldman, pointing to Facebook's forthcoming "ads transparency feature" which will let users visit any Facebook business page and see the ads that brand is running, and whether or not those are targeted towards themselves.

"This will not only make advertising on Facebook more transparent; it will also hold advertisers accountable for the quality of ads they create," he continued.

Appearing to address concerns which emerged once again following a Propublica report into how Facebook allowed housing and rental firms to run ads which screened out minorities despite a federal prohibition on doing so, Goldman said: "Advertising should be safe and civil; it should not divide or discriminate. We have community standards that prohibit hate speech, bullying, intimidation and other kinds of harmful behavior."

He added: "We hold advertisers to even stricter advertising policies to protect you from things like discriminatory ads," reiterating Facebook's recently tightened policies around the matter.

"We review many ads proactively using automated and manual tools, and reactively when people hide, block or mark ads as offensive. When we review an ad, we look at its content, targeting, landing page and the identity of the advertiser. We may not always get it right, but our goal is to prevent and remove content that violates our policies without censoring public discourse."

Goldman also reminded users that personal details like names and email addresses are never sold on to third-parties, and that users can control the ads they see on Facebook by changing their preferences.