(National Sentinel) Bias: While Facebook is publicly claiming it has cleaned up its act and is carefully screening all things political so as to ensure there are no shenanigans or dishonesty taking place on its platform ahead of the 2018 midterms, Vice News reports that the company’s efforts are falling flat.
In fact, the news site said its staffers recently posed as 100 fake senators in order to run ads across the platform, and Facebook approved every single one of them (Civics 101: There are 100 U.S. senators and the chances that all 100 of them would use Facebook for ads is slim).
One of Facebook’s major efforts to add transparency to political advertisements is a required “Paid for by” disclosure at the top of each ad supposedly telling users who is paying for political ads that show up in their news feeds.
But on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, a VICE News investigation found the “Paid for by” feature is easily manipulated and appears to allow anyone to lie about who is paying for a political ad, or to pose as someone paying for the ad.
In order to put the company to the test, Vice News sought to purchase fake political ads for all 100 U.S. senators, including “Paid for by” ads from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The approvals were “bipartisan,” the website said, which shows that you can be just about anyone and purchase ads on the platform and have them marked as “Paid for by” an American politician.
That’s not all.
Each of the approvals was also allowed to be shared to pages of phony political organizations and groups like “Cookies for Political Transparency” and “Ninja Turtles PAC.” Vice News reported that it did not actually purchase any ads but rather its posing correspondents were simply approved to include “Paid for by” disclosures for requested ads.
The 100 senators test came after the website conducted an earlier one last week in which Vice News got approved for political ads posing as Vice President Mike Pence, ISIS, and Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The site attempted to buy ads for Hillary Clinton but those were denied.
At that time, Facebook officials said that none of those ad disclosures should ever have won approval.
That said, the tests indicate that compliance with the “Paid for by” feature is a voluntary thing. Facebook introduced the tool as a means of increasing user trust across the platform when political ads are placed but as the tests show, the feature can also be manipulated in a way that can fool users as well.
“If Facebook is going to claim to verify who’s paying for political ads, they need to actually do the work,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told Vice News in a statement. “Clearly it needs to do far more to combat fraudulent and false content, both in paid advertisements and viral posts.”
Yes, like actually read what’s being presented.
Vice News reported that Facebook officials told them the fake ads for 100 senators should also not have been approved, but they nevertheless defended the “Paid for by” features and credited it with bolstering transparency.
“We know we can’t do this alone, and by housing these ads for up to seven years, people, regulators, third parties and watchdog groups can hold these groups more accountable,” Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern told Vice News in a statement.
Despite Facebook’s claims, the news site noted that it wasn’t at all difficult to fool the ad approval processors and in fact, getting approval for the 100 senators generally took just a few minutes each.
A version of this story first appeared at NewsTarget.
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