In a major policy shift, Facebook announced Thursday that it would make political advertisers in the U.S. verify who they were, and confirm that they were located within the country, as part of a set of changes designed to combat election interference.
The new policy has three main parts, all of which are set to be rolled out in time for the U.S. midterm elections.
First, in order to publish a political ad on Facebook, page administrators would have to submit a government-issue ID with a physical mailing address for verification.
Facebook will then mail them a letter containing an access code that only their specific account can use. Page administrators who put political ads on Facebook will also have to disclose who they represent.
Finally, once the ads go live on Facebook and Instagram, viewers will be able to see a “paid for by” disclosure, similar to political ads on television. Starting this summer, political ads will also be archived, along with detailed analytical information, for four years to help give transparency about who is paying for what where.
Ever since it emerged that over 150 million Americans saw 3,000 divisive political ads purchased by Russian accounts, Facebook has been under severe pressure to tackle the problem of political ad transparency.
“You have a huge problem on your hands,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said during last November’s tech hearings. “And the U.S. is going to be the first of the countries to bring it to your attention, and other countries are going to follow, I’m sure, because you bear this responsibility. You created these platforms, and they are being misused.”
The demands for action reached fever pitch in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, after Americans learned the private information of 50 million Facebook users had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica to help the Trump campaign microtarget voters with ads tailor-made to persuade them. Things went from bad to worse when a undercover investigation from Channel 4 revealed some of Cambridge Analytica’s controversial techniques, like using sex workers to entrap political opponents.
In the wake of the scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the rare step of going on a media tour to apologize. He described the scandal as a “major breach of trust,” promised to make it harder for third-party apps to sell on personal information without users knowing, and said that “there’s a lot of hard work that we need to do to make it harder for nation-states like Russia to do election interference.”
In addition to making it crystal clear where political ads on Facebook are coming from, the platform is also going to limit the amount of data that can end up in the hands of dodgy data firms like Cambridge Analytica.
As the Verge reported, third party data aggregators like Experian and Acxiom partner with Facebook to give advertisers extra data about consumers. The amount of data that apps are currently allowed to access was a central reason that Cambridge Analytica was able to gather so much personal information in the first place.
But these new policies are also incredibly late in the game. Facebook first admitted that Russian ads were on its platform back last September, but has only started to take action now. Facebook also first learned that Cambridge Analytica had all that data back in 2015 — but only asked, not demanded, that Cambridge Analytica delete it.