A litany of screwups drove Facebook to be more transparent about political advertising. But now, a litany of screwups is halting those very same plans.
The social network planned to require political advertisers in the UK to verify their identities starting on November 7, but those plans have been pushed back, after several reports found flaws in the social network’s disclaimer system. “We have learnt that some people may try to game the disclaimer system by entering inaccurate details and have been working to improve our review process to detect and prevent this kind of abuse,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian in a statement. “Once we have strengthened our process for ensuring the accuracy of disclaimers, we will be introducing enforcement systems to identify political advertisers and require them to go through the authorisation process.”
The system, which will now reportedly roll out in the UK “in the next month,” requires political advertisers to disclose the funding behind their ads. These ads are then archived for seven years in a dedicated “ad library.” But, it turns out, Facebook’s existing honor system can easily be exploited—by lying.
VICE News ran a series of stories spotlighting just how easy it is to abuse the system due to its seemingly non-existent vetting process. The publication was able to effectively run ads for 100 U.S. Senators, as well as ads “paid for by” Mike Pence and ISIS. Business Insider ran a similar stunt, successfully running ads “paid for by” the now defunct British data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook is attempting to create more transparency around who is pushing political agendas on its platform, and that’s a good thing, given the social network’s thorny relationship with misinformation, propaganda, and voter suppression. But to date, Facebook’s efforts have proven to be not only easily gamed, but also detrimental to some of its most vulnerable and crucial voices.
“We will continue to roll out and refine these systems out over the next month so that we have a higher level of protection in place before next May’s local elections,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian about the delay.
We have reached out to Facebook for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.