Facebook Reveals New Details About Its Self-Imposed Political Ad Disclosure Policy

The plan for self regulation comes as lawmakers from both parties push new mandatory disclosure legislation.

WASHINGTON ― Facebook on Friday announced details about how the company will require disclosure for all advertisers. The move comes as members of Congress push for legislation to mandate disclosure for all advertisements carried on large online platforms.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, announced that he would institute new disclosure rules for the site’s advertisers in September. The decision to implement these new internal rules came after multiple news reports revealed that a Russian troll factory purchased advertisements on the site with masked identities in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. (Twitter has also announced that it will require disclosure for election advertising.)

The new self-imposed disclosure rules will begin a test-run in November in Canada, according to an announcement by Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of ads. “Starting in Canada was a natural choice as this effort aligns with our election integrity work already underway there,” Goldman wrote. The disclosure program will expand to the United States in the summer of 2018 ahead of the midterm elections.

When the policy is implemented, all advertisers will need to be affiliated with a Facebook page. Each page will have a button titled “View Ads” that any person can click on to see what ads the page is currently running. The viewer will be able to see whether a particular ad is targeting them.

The initial test in Canada will only show active advertisements, but Facebook plans to expand disclosure in the U.S. by creating an archive of election ads going back four years. The archived ads will list information including the total amount of money spent on each ad and the number of impressions each ad received. They will also provide demographic information, including gender, age and location, regarding who saw the ads. Election advertisers will be required to identify their location and the entity purchasing the ads.

This new self-imposed disclosure policy is clearly aimed at preempting legal regulation from the federal government.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in October mandating that online platforms disclose the purchasers and targets of political advertisements and maintain a public online database of those ads. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

Warner has called self-regulation by the internet companies “a good first step,” but stated that legislation to address the lack of transparency is “entirely necessary.”

Facebook has long advocated against disclosure rules for online political advertising. In 2011, the company employed Democratic Party campaign lawyer Marc Elias to argue before the Federal Election Commission that Facebook should be exempt from disclosure rules. The FEC was deadlocked over Facebook’s request, which effectively meant that the company could do as it pleased. The FEC has reopened a discussion period to reconsider online election advertising disclosure rules.

A trade association that includes Facebook, Google and Twitter as its members is currently advocating against legislation to mandate disclosure for online political advertising. Randall Rothenberg, the president of the Internet Advertising Bureau, told lawmakers at a congressional subcommittee that they should allow internet companies to self-regulate the advertising on their respective platforms and not pass legislation.

Facebook and Google have been conciliatory in recent statements, saying that they are happy to work with lawmakers on any potential legislation. Facebook also plans to file comments with the FEC regarding any new push for disclosure rules.