Facebook is facing tough questions in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Did Russians use social media to sway the election? Why is there so much fake news? Why isn’t Facebook more transparent?
Similar questions are being asked here in Illinois, where Facebook has already reshaped political campaigns by offering candidates a cheap way to get their message out. Facebook has also significantly increased its campaign contributions to Illinois lawmakers in 2017, doling out $92,000 to dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle—almost all of it within the last two months.
Critics in Illinois are concerned that a lack of accountability in Facebook advertising—compared with television and radio ads—could impact local and statewide elections. If the Russians could do it for a president, the thinking goes, how easy would it be for someone to manipulate a city council race?
“Facebook and digital media play by a completely different set of rules than broadcast media. And here’s the difference: There are no rules,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, Democrat from Bunker Hill.
Facing this criticism and more in Congress, Facebook says it’s committed to increasing transparency on political ads. The social media giant will soon require more thorough documentation from advertisers who want to run election-related ads, to verify their identity. Users will also be able to see a list of all ads that a particular Facebook page is running. That’s not currently possible, meaning you’re only able to see the ads that you’ve been shown because of an advertiser’s targeting.
“We remain deeply committed to helping protect the integrity of the electoral process on Facebook,” the company said. “And we will continue to work with our industry partners, lawmakers and our entire community to better ensure transparency and accountability in our advertising products.”
Facebook’s advertising platform—powered by gobs of demographic data about its users—is tailor-made for political candidates who want to reach voters. For less money, it offers better audience targeting options than television and radio ads. Advertisers can spend as little as $5, and the granular targeting allows you to target ZIP codes or even congressional districts. That’s a big improvement over TV ads, for example, which are seen by a such a large audience that some of them may not even be in the right legislative district.