Facebook's political ad tool lets users pose as senators: report

Facebook's political ad tool lets users pose as senators: report
© Greg Nash

Facebook’s attempts to create transparency and stop the flow of misinformation in political ads on its platform are easy to manipulate, a new investigation shows.

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The company recently introduced a feature that shows who purchased an ad on its platform by showing “paid for” ahead of the person or organization that bought the political ad on the advertisement. But purchasers can easily manipulate the information shown, a Vice News investigation found.

The news outlet purchased 100 ads and attributed their payment to U.S. senators, which Facebook’s systems reportedly approved without any pushback.

The investigation follows another from Vice News last week in which it purchased ads that it labeled as paid for by “Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump, Pelosi, Schumer: No adult in the room Anti-wall is not a border policy: How Democrats can sell an immigration plan Protesters host dance party outside Stephen Miller's home MORE” and “ISIS,” which Facebook also did not prevent.

“If Facebook is going to claim to verify who’s paying for political ads, they need to actually do the work,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — New momentum for privacy legislation | YouTube purges spam videos | Apple plans B Austin campus | Iranian hackers targeted Treasury officials | FEC to let lawmakers use campaign funds for cyber FEC votes to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for personal cybersecurity Senate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement to Vice News. “Clearly it needs to do far more to combat fraudulent and false content, both in paid advertisements and viral posts.”

Facebook said that Vice’s findings do not contradict its own policies. The company also stressed that it’s working diligently both on its own and with state and federal election authorities to curb any attempts at election influence.

“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,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “This is also one piece of our broader efforts to bring greater transparency to ads related to politics on Facebook. An advertiser must also confirm his or her identity and location in the U.S. before placing these ads.”

The "paid for" feature is part of Facebook’s broader push to provide more transparency in its political advertising, following revelations last year that Russian trolls used ads on its platform to push their messaging in an attempt to influence the U.S. political process.

The company is still trying to mitigate foreign attempts at influencing U.S. politics on its platform. Since the summer, Facebook has revealed multiple misinformation efforts by Russian and Iranian trolls as well as actors it not has been able to link to specific governments or causes.