Facebook, Under Scrutiny for Russia-Backed Ads, Plans to Add 1,000 Reviewers

By Georgia Wells Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc., on the defensive as it hands over data on Russian-backed ads on its platform, said it plans to add 1,000 new workers to review ads even though it will count mostly on users to flag questionable ads.

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On Monday, Facebook, elaborating on broad new guidelines revealed by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last month, said the new ad reviewers will be tasked with helping to make sure advertising on the platform complies with its policies. Facebook declined to say how many ad reviewers it currently employs. The 1,000 new reviewers will be added in the next year.

The announcement came the same day Facebook was due to give congressional investigators information on more than 3,000 ads paid for by Russian entities. Facebook said the buyers of the ads-- 470 different accounts linked to a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency-- violated the social network's policies by misrepresenting their identities.

The new reviewers are also part of a second announcement last month that Facebook will add more human review to ads after a report showed that people could target ads at users that expressed an interest in anti-Semitic and other hateful topics.

However, Facebook said it would continue to rely on its users to flag inappropriate ads, using a new tool that will let users see all the ads an organization or company paid for. That puts the burden for sifting through and judging an enormous quantity of information on users who have been misled on the platform in the past. For instance, the Russian-backed ads were about sensitive social and political issues, Facebook said, and attempted to sow discord.

The measures show how Facebook is struggling to understand how its platform of more than 2 billion monthly users is being manipulated. Last month, the company disclosed that Russian-backed entities spent $150,000 on the platform during the U.S. presidential election, two months after saying it found no evidence of such activity. After being called to meet with congressional investigators probing alleged Russian tampering in the election, Facebook committed last month to protecting election integrity.

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Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' reports that it interfered in the election.

Facebook's playbook of responding to a crisis by adding more human reviewers is now a familiar one. For instance, Facebook in May said it would add 3,000 more content reviewers after a rash of violent videos on its site. Last month, Facebook said it would add 250 employees to its team working on election integrity.

It is also fine-tuning its automated ad review. Facebook said it will direct its software to take into account the intended audience for an ad and the context in which it was bought.

In the future, Facebook will require more thorough documentation from advertisers who want to run election-related ads, to confirm they represent the business or organization they claim. However, it's uncertain that Facebook's new transparency requirements would have prevented the Russian-backed ads currently under scrutiny because ads on social issues wouldn't qualify as election-related, according to a Facebook spokesman.

Mr. Zuckerberg has expressed regret several times recently for how Facebook was used during the election. In a post on Saturday marking the end of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, Mr. Zuckerberg said, "For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better."

Write to Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 02, 2017 11:14 ET (15:14 GMT)