Facebook is tightening the rules around the provenance of political advertising on its platform, following high-profile examples of evasion.

With immense power comes responsibility, and Facebook will now require more information from political or issue-based advertisers in order for those groups to access its ad network.

According to a Facebook blog post, the new rules will build on last year’s requirement of identity and location verification by requiring advertisers to show proof that they’re part of the organisation they claim to represent.

The move builds on criticism of the company from last year’s mid-term elections, when, in November, VICE published an investigation that claimed the company’s tools allowed anyone “to lie about who is paying for a political ad”.

It found that “just about anyone can buy an ad identified as ‘Paid for by’ by a major US politician,” after VICE gained approval to buy 100 fake ads on behalf of sitting US senators.

“In 2018 we did see that our disclaimer process was something that could be misused,” Sarah Schiff, a Facebook product manager, told The Verge. “This is an effort to strengthen that process.”

Facebook will now ask advertisers to provide a US street address, phone number, and matching business website and email addresses, which the social network will then review. The information will then be available in its public ad library.

In addition, to become a “confirmed organisation”, advertisers will have to provide a Tax ID number, Federal Election Commission ID number, or a government website. Those unable to comply by mid-October will have their advertising on the platform blocked.

“While the authorization process won’t be perfect, it will help us confirm the legitimacy of an organization and provide people with more details about who’s behind the ads they are seeing,” the company said.

The impact on brand advertisers comes from the fact that it is updating the list of issues it considers political, which is broad to say the least. It is taking its 20 categories and condensing them down to 10, in line with issue lists in countries that have recently held elections.

“For instance, in the Civil and Social Rights category, we will continue to proactively detect and review ads on topics like freedom of religion, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights”, the company says.

Beyond that, the company says it will continue to expand its policy on political ads, including the prohibition of ads that expressly discourage people from voting.

Already, political candidates in the US are spending heavily. According to Bully Pulpit Initiative’s 2020 Campaign Tracker, the top eight contenders for the presidency (by Facebook adspend) – Donald Trump, Tom Steyer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris – have already spent more than $25 million on Facebook ads.

Regulation, in the US as in other countries, around political ads has struggled to update its broadcast guidelines to a new online ad ecosystem. Facebook, despite its benefitting from this large political adspend, is tasked with keeping tabs on itself.

Sourced from Facebook, The Verge, WARC, Bully Pulpit Initiative