Facebook’s Paid Advertising is Getting the Transparency Treatment

Facebook’s recently come under fire. And with good reason.

Just a few weeks ago, the social network appeared before the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees to answer questions about Russian interference in the 2016 federal election.

In September, U.S. congressional investigators determined that Kremlin-linked companies had purchased 3,000 Facebook ads at a total of 100,000 USD over two years. A drop in the ocean, sure. But this is just the beginning. Over the coming months, we’ll likely discover that bad actors played a much bigger role in influencing public sentiment before the 2016 U.S. federal election. And they used paid ad platforms like Facebook’s to do so.

Digital marketers understand how powerful paid ads are. By providing advertisers with a host of targeting options and serious visibility, they don’t just let you reach your intended audience. They influence public opinion and drive action, too. And to be fair, Facebook’s not the only one to blame here (Twitter, YouTube, we’re looking at you, too…).

This is all to say that ad transparency matters. A lot.

Media literacy requires that we understand the entities that are advertising to us and why we’ve been targeted. Practically speaking, this knowledge also helps us to make better decisions—as consumers and voters. Whether it’s deciding if a product’s the right fit for you or if the information you’re receiving is coming from a credible source.

Transparency is the future of paid advertising and finally, after years of fighting regulators looking for just that, it looks like Facebook agrees.

Testing Transparency

In a press release that came out October 27th, Rob Goldman, VP of Ads at Facebook, announced some huge changes to the platform. The short of it? Facebook’s paid ads are getting the transparency treatment.

Looks like we’ll be the Guinea Pigs. That’s right, Facebook will be testing their new paid ads features right here in Canada. Lucky us. Seriously.

You might be wondering: why Canada? That’s because Facebook Canada has already rolled out their Election Integrity Initiative. The feature should go live in the U.S. by November next year, just before mid-term elections. It should hit the rest of the world soon after.

What’s new?

Plenty, thankfully. So here they are:

  1. All ads must be tied to a business page
  2. “View Ads”, a new tab, will let users see the active ads an entity has purchased and how they were targeted

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Facebook’s also looking to archive ads related to U.S. federal elections for up to four years, provide organizations’ total ad spends, total impressions delivered, and demographic details for audiences that were reached. For all political ads, advertisers will have to identify themselves and their location. Finally, Facebook is developing machine-learning tools and hiring more people to deal with misleading content and pages.

The Future of Paid…

Facebook’s leading the charge for transparency. It would be extremely naïve to suggest that they’ve had altruistic intentions. That’s definitely not the case, But it’s a big deal just the same. It means Facebook’s taking responsibility for the power it exerts. It also means that they’re holding marketers responsible for their ads.

Lastly, it’s consumers who benefit the most. Greater transparency means people can make better, more-informed decisions about the ads they’re receiving.

Expect other paid ad platforms to step in line, too. The freewheeling days of paid advertising are behind us. Just as it should be.