Facebook plans to ensure transparent elections – is it right?

So Facebook announced that they will increase ad transparency ahead of the 2019 General Elections. Why? Several events led up to it.

The Role of Facebook Ads in 2016 US Presidential Elections

A recent study on the 2016 US presidential elections shocked the world a few weeks ago. According to it, Facebook had been very effective in persuading dubious voters during the elections.

The research was conducted by researchers from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), the University of Warwick and ETH Zurich.

According to the study, Trump’s team spent 44 million dollars on Facebook, skyrocketing their voter percentage by at least 5%. Clinton also spent 28 million dollars for the same, yet, for some reason, it didn’t work for her. [Also, I calculated; it’ll take me a lifetime, or more, to make that kind of money.]

Seeing the constant rise in online marketing, there are many politicians who have begun to make use of social media marketing services for their electoral campaign.

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Donald Trump’s team ran about 175,000 different advertisements on Facebook. The messages were sent out to Facebook users based on various factors such as age, gender, employment, political allegiance, etc. This micro-targeted advertising clearly worked in Trump’s favor.

The research also states that the impact of the campaign was strongest among those voters who used Facebook regularly, those who used it as their main source of news and those without university or college graduation.

Russia’s Fake Ads Fiasco

There was one more mishap in the 2016 US presidential elections. Fake Facebook ads, designed by Russia were being shown to people. These ads were trying to tip the result in Trump’s favor.

Several of these fake ads also made use of popular elements to instill genuineness and make people rise up in emotion. One ad had Jesus arm-wrestling Satan, others talked about the Ku Klux Klan movement, some used black people and others displayed hate against “invaders”. All of these were aimed to target people with similar ideology and ensure that they got the majority of voters.

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Facebook’s Verdict

Because of all these goof-ups, Facebook came up with a new announcement in May 2018. They said that they will increase the transparency of the ads run on their platform. This applies to ads with political content and other issues, especially during elections.

Social media is increasingly becoming more transparent and user-centric. Internet users, in general, can regulate and control their private information disclosed online.

Along with it, there is a constant rise in digital and inbound marketing. Chancing on this, politicians have also started to use social media for their electoral campaigns.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg also made an announcement in which he stated that he will be working towards a better and secure platform. He will take several steps to ensure the security such as removal of fake accounts, curbing misinformation, ad transparency & verification, and independent election research committee.

He has already begun with several of these tasks and is working on the others.

Now, with India’s 2019 general elections coming up, Facebook has announced the same changes for India as well.

So what are the new changes in political ads?

Here are the changes that Facebook has announced for increasing transparency and preventing abuse through the ads:

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  • Anyone who wants to run an ad with political content will need to first confirm their identity and location.
  • The identification and verification process will take up weeks, so the advertisers are informed to do it right away for avoiding delays later.
  • There will be a disclaimer on all political ads that will provide more information about the ad
  • Each ad will have a “Paid for by XYZ” label. This will allow Facebook users to see who has paid for a given ad and other details like the individual’s location.
  • All the users will be able to see the amount of money spent on a particular ad.
  • All the users will be able to look at the insights of the ad, such as the number of people who saw a particular ad and their demographics such as age, gender, etc
  • There will be an ad library for all the political ads which will allow users to see all the political ads that ran on Facebook during the 2019 Indian general elections.
  • Any ad that runs without a “Paid for by XYZ” label will be moved to the ads library and will stay there.

How will it be acted on?

Facebook has been coordinating with the government and large companies that will impact the elections.

Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Policy solutions also said that there is a group of specialists coming together just for this purpose. They will form a virtual war room that will include security, election, content & anti-hate speech specialists.

Apart from this, Facebook is hiring senior and mid-level management people to join those who are already there in order to tighten the security.

Is it the right thing?

I believe that this is one of the best things that Facebook could’ve done right now. People have the right to information and this update mirrors that right. Moreover, it applies to political content specifically.

Being a democratic country, using unlawful practices to sway the result of elections is not the right way to win. When politicians are rallying, we can see who is doing what and how. However, online, people tend to hide behind facades and fool us.

The verification of identity will ensure the legality of these ads. Also, a verification of location will prevent any and every foreign interference in the advertisements pertaining to the elections.

The label showing who paid for the ad will help people understand and verify the individuals who are taking part in the promotional campaign.

Some people may think that this is a pointless step, it’s anything but that.

For a long time now, India has been a victim of fake news, not just through Facebook, but also through Twitter and WhatsApp. In fact, mobs once lynched nearly 30 people due to fake news that was spread through WhatsApp.

In a nation that has so many people who are unable to differentiate between what’s fake and what’s real, it’s very easy to hoodwink people.

The power of fake Facebook ads is such that it could sway the presidential elections of a highly developed nation like the US. So, who’s to say that it won’t do the same to India?

Hence, I believe this is the best that could happen before next year’s election. What are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments section below!

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