Facebook Centralizes Its Ad Transparency Tools

Facebook is trying to make it easier for people to get information about the ads running on its platform.

Ad transparency – political ad transparency, in particular – has been a top priority at Facebook since it became clear that bad actors were running amok in the leadup to the 2016 presidential election.

Starting Thursday, Facebook is consolidating all of its ad-related transparency tools into a single searchable database called the Facebook Ad Library, and adding in a few new bells and whistles.

“All of this information was already live, but it was scattered across multiple surfaces,” said Satwik Shukla, a product manager on Facebook’s business integrity team responsible for the ads transparency product. “Transparency tools are only as useful as you make them easy for people to use.”

Beginning in May, Facebook will start updating its Ad Library Report daily rather than weekly. The report is a downloadable summary of the political and issue ads archive.

And anyone, regardless of whether they have a Facebook account, can visit facebook.com/adlibrary to search for ads, including political and issue ads, by keyword or by page. Also available is information about ad spend, impression counts, when a page was created, where the page admins are located, and whether a page has changed its name and how many times.

People will also be able to report fishy-looking ads directly from within the Ad Library. Facebook uses a combination of machines and humans to evaluate ads before they go live, but baddies can and do slip through the cracks.

“Our process is obviously not 100% perfect, so we do encourage the community to report ads they find to be suspicious to us,” Shukla said. “We rely on that feedback loop to react to ads that go against our policies.”

When Facebook first rolled out ad transparency tools last year, publishers were miffed that the company forced them to register as political advertisers.

So, Facebook will now exempt qualifying news publishers that target people in the US from having to go through the ad authorization process or label their ads as being political.

Facebook is also expanding access to its API for those that want to analyze political or issue ads in any country where the company has already rolled out its identity confirmation process ­– a list that includes the US, Brazil, India, Israel, the UK and, now, the rest of the EU ahead of the European Parliamentary elections at the end of May.

Parties looking for API access will have to create a Facebook developer account, get authorized, which takes a few weeks, and agree to Facebook’s terms of service.

“Foreign election interference is the inspiration behind why we’re building these tools and adding in more transparency helps, but this is a hard problem and transparency is only one aspect,” Shukla said. “We acknowledge that we can’t do it alone, and we know there is always more we can do to empower media organizations, watchdogs and regulators.”

Yes, but is Facebook ready for 2020? No official comment on that one.

A Facebook spokesperson did note, however, that preparations for the next US presidential race are already underway, and that Facebook is building on lessons learned during the US midterms and other global elections.

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