Protecting Elections in the EU

Protecting Elections in the EU

By Richard Allan, VP Global Policy Solutions

In the run up to the European Parliamentary Elections in May, we are making big changes to the way ads with political content work on Facebook.

We are introducing some new tools to help us deliver on two key goals that experts have told us are important for protecting the integrity of elections — preventing online advertising from being used for foreign interference, and increasing transparency around all forms of political and issue advertising.

Authorizing Advertisers

To help prevent abuse and interference all EU advertisers will need to be authorized in their country to run ads related to the European Parliamentary elections. We will ask them to submit documents and use technical checks to confirm their identity and location. We will be using a combination of automated systems and user reporting to enforce this policy. We recognize that some people can try and work around any system but we are confident this will be a real barrier for anyone thinking of using our ads to interfere in an election from outside of a country.

Importantly, this means that all the people who are reaching you with ads identified as related to politics or issues have been authorized as being in your country and will be required to provide accurate information about who they are. This will help relevant authorities investigate them if they have any suspicions. There are many issues that only election regulators can effectively decide, for example if rules on campaign finance have been followed, and our new tools will help them in this important work.

Labeling Political and Issue Ads

To increase transparency, all ads related to politics and issues on Facebook and Instagram in the EU must be clearly labeled — including a “Paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser at the top of the ad. This means that you can see who is paying for the ad and, for any business or organization, their contact details. When you click on the label, you’ll be able to see more information such as the campaign budget associated with an individual ad, how many people saw it and their age, location and gender. We are inviting all political campaigns to start the ads authorization process now and we will start to block political or issue ads that have not been properly registered from mid-April.

We want to make sure that we capture the broad range of ads that are intended to influence the outcome of the election. This means including not only ads that advocate voting for particular candidates or parties but also issue ads, which don’t explicitly back one candidate or political party but which focus on highly politicized topics such as immigration.

Ads Library

Many people have an interest in getting information about the ads run by political campaigns. This information is especially useful for election regulators and watchdog groups. We have built a new tool called Ad Library to make it easy for everyone to find out about political or issue ads on Facebook. Here you will see all the ads that have been classified as relating to politics or issues and we will keep them in the library for seven years. When you click “See Ad Details” for these ads, you will see information on the number of times the ad was viewed, and demographics about the audience reached including age range, location, and gender. As well as allowing anyone to browse and search in the library, we are expanding access to our API so news organizations, regulators, watchdog groups and people can hold advertisers and us more accountable.

We recognize that media coverage of elections and important issues is distinct from advocacy or electoral ads, even if those news stories may refer to parties and candidates and receive paid distribution on Facebook. That is why we are working to exempt ads by news publishers from these new tools. We do not have the systems in place yet to exempt news stories in all countries but will be rolling this out across the EU as we build out the necessary infrastructure.

Committing to Transparency and Accountability 

We believe that more transparency will lead to increased accountability and responsibility over time — not just for Facebook but for 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 is related to politics or issues and isn’t labeled, please report it. Facebook will review the ad, and if it falls under our political advertising policy, we’ll take it down and add it to the Ad Library.

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 that is why they are so important.

For an update on our ads transparency tools around the world, see here.

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