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How to use Facebook and Twitter’s Transparency Tools via the new Kavanaugh SCOTUS ads

Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter recently released new advertisement transparency tools after receiving months of intense scrutiny and heated criticism, particularly Facebook, for their role in enabling Russian-linked organizations to use deceptive ads to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Facebook

For all advertisements, political or not, Facebook released a new tab called “Info and Ads” on every Facebook page’s account that allows any of its 2 billion users to see all of the ads that an account is currently running across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

Facebook and Twitter

Regarding political and “issue” ads, Facebook created a new database where one can search for political ads by issue, candidate name, political party, etc. You can now see who paid for an ad, how many impressions it has received, how much the group paid for that ad, and a percentage breakdown of the gender, age and location (state by state) of the people who viewed the ad.

Any advertiser that wants to run political ads must now go through Facebook’s authorization process that requires them to reveal their identity and location, and advertisers will only have a week’s grace period before those unauthorized will have their ads paused. Facebook plans to monitor political ads with a combination of artificial intelligence and thousands of newly hired ad reviewers as a part of its doubling of its security team from 10,000 to 20,000 this year. The reviewers and A.I. will analyze ad images, text and linked websites looking for political content.

Twitter

Twitter calls its new tool an “Ad Transparency Center” where you can search for the handle of the account you want to see promoted tweets for. Twitter’s tool will then pull up all the tweets that the particular account has promoted within the last seven days as well as how many likes and retweets its received. Besides aggregating promoted tweets from a particular account in one place, there’s no further information Twitter is currently providing, such as how much is being spent on the ad, whom it is targeting and the parent company of the organization buying the ad.

Facebook and Twitter

Regarding political campaign content, Twitter requires that advertisers promoting such content around U.S. federal elections go through a certification process as well. Twitter requires such political advertisers be certified by registering with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and providing Twitter an FEC ID. Organizations and individuals not registered with the FEC must provide a U.S. passport and a notarized form to Twitter. Thus far, Twitter has not said it will disclose this information to the public. If you search for advertisers on Twitter running campaigns for federal elections specifically, you’ll be able to see additional details, including the identity of the organization funding the campaign, the amount spent to promote the ad and ad targeting demographics.

Facebook and Twitter

Although these actions taken by Facebook, and to a lesser extent by Twitter, appear to be moving in the direction of more transparency, there is still concern that the organizations that fund political content can have confusing or misleading names that obscure their true purpose. Unless people are willing to go searching and investigating on the internet themselves, the information Facebook and Twitter provides on their political ad database may leave users unclear on the true source and motive of an advertisement.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch that the page administrator who purchases an ad chooses who to disclose as having paid for it. Facebook requires that this disclosure info be complete and accurate, and that advertisers follow applicable laws. However, these rules still seems to allow advertisers to cite some shell organization or donor group name that could obscure where the money really comes from.

Examining the latest round of political advertisements for and against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh provides a good example.

Seeing that an ad was paid for by “Americans for Prosperity” wouldn’t immediately inform most Americans that it’s a conservative “dark money” group linked to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. On the other side, ads to fight Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been bought by “Demand Justice,” a new dark money group with a liberal-leaning agenda.

A notable aspect of Facebook’s political ad database is how repetitive and crowded it is. It shows just how easy it is to create a large fleet of ads on the platform. Ads with identical text and images can appear dozens or hundreds of times in the same search, arguably because each ad is targeted to a different demographic.

Facebook and Twitter

Nihal Krishan

Nihal joined CRP as a reporter in June 2018. He’s been a political reporter in Washington for the past 3 years working for various news outlets including PBS Arizona, Circa News, Inside Sources and Australian ABC News. He’s been published in the Huffington Post, The Independent, USA Today and has been a guest speaker on NPR. One of his first big national stories came from digging through CRP data in 2015 and finding the largest donor to federal campaigns in Arizona, an unknown out of state parent company — he’s gotten a thrill out of tracking money in politics since. Nihal is a TCK who grew up in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and Singapore. He graduated from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism with degrees in Political Science and Journalism.

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