As we head towards the US Presidential Election, Facebook is looking to close a loophole in its political ad transparency process which has seen some activist groups pose as local news outlets in order to avoid listing their political affiliations.
As per Facebook's ad policy, all Pages in the US that have "direct, meaningful ties to political entities" are required to go through Facebook's ad authorization process in order to run ads about social issues, elections or politics.
When approved, that then sees a "Paid for by" disclaimer added to their ads, along with other transparency info.
Some activist groups have avoided this extra level of transparency by running their ads as news, which is exempt from the same regulations.
But as reported by Axios, Facebook's now changing its rules to end such misuse:
"Pages on Facebook belonging to news outlets that are backed by political groups or people will still be allowed to register as a news Page and advertise on Facebook, but they will no longer be eligible for inclusion in the Facebook News tab, and they won’t have access to news messaging on the Messenger Business Platform or the WhatsApp business API."
The problem has been significant - according to Axios, reporters and researchers have found more than 1,200 instances over the last four years in which politically-affiliated groups have used websites disguised as local news outlets to broadcast their views. That then clouds the true angling of the content they publish - essentially, it's a misinformation tactic designed to hide political connections with outlets that purport to be covering the news.
Of course, many news outlets do have a clear political leaning, and many broadcast and publish questionable, partisan stories that take a certain perspective on the facts, but this practice specifically relates to false news outlets that are seeking to mislead voters with entirely biased coverage.
Which, as we know, does tend to gain traction on The Social Network.
In order to enact the new regulations, Facebook will also be updating its definitions as to how publishers are connected with political groups, including additional data points linking news websites to political representatives.
It's a logical update, and while it won't address all of the various concerns with Facebook's political advertising approach, nor its amplification of certain perspectives through its engagement-focused algorithm, it's another way for Facebook to crack down on those looking to use its systems to manipulate public opinion.