Yesterday Facebook announced it will not be banning political ads, but it will be taking a step to a more transparent platform. Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram will be labeling sponsor ads.
The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, and news about Russian sponsored political ads, makes this plan a bit controversial. While it's clear to see Facebook is standing by its word to take precautious steps, will this new plan suffice? To answer that we first need to understand what this measure would look like in practice.
What it would mean for you going forward.
According to Facebook's press release yesterday, Facebook and Instagram users in the U.S. will be able to access pertinent information regarding political ads. We will be able to see who is running the ad, and the amount of money they put toward the ad. Most important, users can now see demographic details of who the ad is reaching, such as gender, age, and geographical location.
Facebook stated that "Helping people to understand who's trying to influence their vote will help us better defend against foreign interference and other abuse."
These efforts are a clear step in the right direction. Similarly, it's already been implemented in non-political fashions. Entrepreneurs and companies can use this to get recognition for sponsoring influencers or celebrities to post about their products. Still, there are unaddressed concerns within this proposed plan.
What it would mean for the transparency of political ads.
These actions make information behind political sponsorship more accessible, but it doesn't make it transparent. According to TechCrunch, one way that parties can undermine this plan is by having misleading or ambiguous names that could defer attention from their intentions. If they are only listed as the organization who's paid for the ad, users still could be misled about the purpose behind the funds--unless they are willing to do research to find out for themselves.
As users, you can expect to see the sponsor but not the intention behind said sponsorship.
Facebook's new plan also doesn't solve major issues brought up in the Cambridge
Analytica scandal, like what parties can access archived user data. Facebook has yet to indicate who can obtain that information, or to identify preventable measures for impeding people to access the data.
Why isn't Facebook banning political ads?
So, why isn't Facebook simply putting an end to political ads as a whole? The company explained in its statement that digital advertising is more affordable than other forms of advertising, such as televised commercials. By completely banning political ads, the company would make it harder for candidates with smaller budgets to be seen. Facebook explained:
"Similarly, it would make it harder for people running for local office -- who can't afford larger media buys -- to get their message out. And issue ads also help raise awareness of important challenges, mobilizing people across communities to fight for a common cause."
The same goes for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Facebook and Instagram are powerful ways to gain exposure and build an audience for startups who do not have the budget for large advertising placements.
It's important to note the way this plan could adjust social media ads across the board.
Russian chatbots and sponsored Facebook ads have left many Americans feeling confused, upset, and violated. This aside, it's clear to see the important role political ads play in society. As Facebook and its users continue to grabble with these multifaceted issues, it will be interesting to see how Facebook--and booming tech companies alike--navigate these unprecedented waters.