Facebook hands over Russia ads to Congress

Not so dark anymore.
Image: stephen lam/getty images

Mark Zuckerberg wants to make Facebook advertising great again, as in not just be associated with Russian propaganda influencing the 2016 election. 

On his first day back from a month of parental leave, Zuckerberg held a “press conference” via Facebook Live to discuss “our next steps protecting election integrity,” he wrote. 

What does “election integrity” mean? It has to do with Facebook, Russia, and ads. This big transparency push comes after Facebook admitted Russian-linked accounts spent at least $100,000 on 3,000 ads during the 2016 presidential election.

Along with his Facebook Live broadcast, Facebook posted a blog post sharing that the company will provide U.S. lawmakers with the content of the ads that were linked to Russia accounts, specifically the entity known as the Internet Research Agency. 

This announcement follows increased pressure from U.S. lawmakers for regulation on digital advertisers. Unlike TV advertising where presidential campaigns must disclose their spending on particular networks, the digital ad world has remained more of a Wild West as in anyone can buy wherever for whoever. 

Facebook’s move to share the 3,000 ads follows in the company sharing this information with the special counsel on the 2016 election only after special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant.

After being called out by lawmakers like Sen. Mark Warner to be more transparent, Zuckerberg commanded his team to share the content of their investigations more, as he revealed on Facebook Live. 

“We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election. That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part,” Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, wrote in a blog post. 

Facebook also released another post on its “Hard Questions” blog, where it outlined the steps the company is taking in the wake of Russia’s ad buying during the 2016 election. 

One question: “Do you expect to find more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts?”

The answer: “It’s possible.”

The important change here is that Facebook is better regulating its advertising process prior to any official government rules, or so the company claims.

As Zuckerberg said on Facebook Live, “Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first.”

Freedom here could refer to ad buying. Facebook offers self-serve ad buying, meaning anyone could purchase an ad without ever talking to an employee at Facebook. That ad buyer could potentially be someone in Russia trying to interfere with the 2016 election, as the company uncovered in its investigation.

Facebook doesn’t want to introduce a ton more friction into the ad buying process, of course. That could mean way less more money for one of the world’s most profitable companies.

What it will do is increase transparency to Facebook users and to ad buyers.

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Tags: 2016-election business donald-trump Elections facebook mark-zuckerberg politics social-media-companies

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