A probe by VICE News reporters has claimed that one of Facebook’s key tools to increase transparency over political ads actually allows anyone to “lie about who is paying for a political ad”.

The investigation, which VICE published as US voters are about to head to polling booths for the mid-term elections, found that placing fake political ads and posing as someone paying for those ads was a simple process.

In a bid to head off a storm of criticism over unchecked political ads and data misuse, earlier this year Facebook introduced its ‘Paid for by’ disclosure label on ads. This is supposed to show which individual or organization has bought the ad space.

But VICE found it was able to buy 100 fake ads on behalf of individual sitting US senators with ease.

“Just about anyone can buy an ad identified as ‘Paid for by’ by a major US politician,” VICE News said.

On top of lying about who was paying for the ads, VICE added, all the approvals were granted to be shared from pages of fake political groups, with suspicious names including “Cookies for Political Transparency”, and “Ninja Turtles PAC”.

VICE did not actually buy the ads, but merely received approval from Facebook to run them.

The latest revelation comes following a test conducted by VICE last week when it received approval to place political ads after posing as Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, and Islamic State. An ad ostensibly paid for by Hillary Clinton was turned down.

At the time, Facebook said those ad disclosures should not have been approved.

Meanwhile Business Insider UK carried out a similar investigation and was able to run two fake ads listed as ‘Paid for by’ on Facebook after claiming they had been paid for by the defunct and disgraced Cambridge Analytica, which is banned by Facebook. The ads ran for two days before Facebook took them down.

In a statement on the VICE news investigation, Facebook confirmed that ‘Paid for by’ disclosures in the names of US senators should never have been approved. But it said the ‘Paid for by’ tool was one effort at transparency, along with a searchable Ad Archive.

“We know we can’t do this alone, and by housing these ads for up to seven years, people, regulators, third parties and watchdog groups can hold these groups more accountable,” the statement said.

Sourced from VICE, Business Insider; additional content by WARC staff