So I admit, I never thought that politics on social media were great to begin with. For the most part, it’s a storm of posts you don’t agree with, uninformed commentators, and best of all, #FakeNews. But recently, social media platforms have begun to do their part in cleaning up the mess that is viral politics. And no, this doesn't mean that your uncle who posts daily about his crazy conspiracy theories will finally be kicked off the network–but at least now you can rest assured that you won’t be bombarded with sponsored content from illegitimate advertisers.
On May 24, 2018 Facebook began to require that all advertisers who run political or “issue” ads undergo a verification process, helping to ensure election integrity and to keep foreign nationalists from interfering with election results. This shift towards authentication comes from The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill that formed in 2017 to prevent a repeat of the 2016 election, where foreign players used social media platforms to cause confusion and sow civil unrest. While Facebook was the first platform to support the bill, they are accompanied by other powerhouse digital marketing platforms, Twitter and Google, all of which will mandate verifying advertiser accounts this summer. This bill aims to keep foreign propagandists from buying ads by making advertising on social media more transparent– just in time for U.S. midterm election prep.
At a pivotal point where the public distrust of Facebook is at an all time high and after issues with data privacy scandals, Zuckerberg and co. are working to protect their position as one of the top social media platforms, by working to earn back the trust in their users. In the midst of the age of social media, where digital advertising is king and fake news spreads like wildfire, it’s no secret that social media marketing has significantly impacted politics and the results of elections. Since President Obama, our first social media president, the use of online marketing as part of campaign strategies has grown and keeps growing–in 2016, spending on digital political ads skyrocketed to $1.4 billion.
Moving forward, all political issue ads served in market will disclose who is sponsoring the ad and who they are targeting. Additionally, users will be able to click to a page directly from the ad that will show more information including how many people have seen it. Furthermore, advertisers must now undergo a verification process that requires them to submit a copy of their photo I.D. and a mailing address within the U.S. to confirm residency. Archives of political ads on Facebook will also be kept for 7 years.
Like most things, this is likely not a foolproof solution nor will this completely eliminate foreign meddling in future elections. There will be plenty of workarounds and loopholes found. As of now, this bill only extends to paid advertisements, meaning that political organizations could still use free services such as uploading videos to YouTube and/or posting blogs. The goal of this bill however is not to infringe on freedom of speech or to censor what messages are being shared with the public, but to simply better protect the integrity of elections and bring the most transparency possible to users of digital and social media.