Facebook tightens rules on political ads as 2020 campaigns heat up

Facebook is tightening regulation of U.S. political ads as the 2020 presidential race intensifies, requiring buyers to provide more details confirming their affiliations before the spots appear on its marquee platform or photo-sharing app Instagram.

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The new steps enhance existing policies under which Facebook advertisers must reveal who they are and where they're located, a change that followed a political firestorm over the Menlo Park, California-based company's failure to prevent Russian intelligence agents from using its platforms to mislead voters in 2016.

After discovering flaws in the disclosure system, the social media giant is adding a “confirmed organization” label for U.S. political promoters who demonstrate government-issued credentials -- Federal Election Commission ID numbers or government websites matching an official e-mail, for instance -- to demonstrate their legitimacy.

Any advertisers who don't qualify for that designation will be required to provide information such as a verifiable phone number, business e-mail, mailing address or personal identification docuemnts. Purchasers who don't comply will be unable to run ads after mid-October, Facebook said.

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“In 2018, we did see evidence of misuse in these disclaimers,and so this is our effort to strengthen the process,” said Sarah Schiff, product manager at Facebook.

Vice News reporters proved they could register ads on behalf of figures and groups including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and “Islamic State” last year. Even last week, Facebook banned right-wing news outlet The Epoch Times after it used several different pages to push pro-Trump ads.

And Facebook's online library of political ads, also introduced last year, has been criticized by researchers for poor maintenance and failure to provide useful ad-targeting information.

The challenges underscore just how important the company's platforms, which boast an audience of more than 2.7 billion a month, have become to political campaigns as well as advocacy groups.

President Trump’s re-election campaign has spent about $9.6 million this year alone on Facebook ads, ranking the incumbent as the top spender among 2020 candidates, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm that tracks digital ad spending.