How to identify false ads

Use these 5 tips to make evaluations of advertisements

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other major platforms are reviewing advertisements before publishing to ensure that false ads don't circulate on their websites.

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Some false ads, however, make it past those review processes.

Facebook, for example, recently sued software developer Basant Gajjar for circumventing Facebook's review process and publishing deceptive ads on the site.

"Gajjar violated Facebook Terms and Policies by providing cloaking software and services designed to circumvent automated ad review systems, and ultimately run deceptive ads on Facebook and Instagram. [Gajjar]’s software also targeted a number of other technology companies including Google, Oath, WordPress, Shopify and others," Facebook wrote in an April 9 blog post.

The lawsuit came after Consumer Report investigative journalist Kaveh Waddell published an article detailing how he was able to get Facebook to approve seven paid ads making "dangerous claims" about the novel coronavirus.

"The advertisements remained scheduled for publication for more than a week without being flagged by Facebook. Then, I pulled them out of the queue to make sure none of them were seen by the public. Consumer Reports made certain not to publish any ads with false or misleading information," the article reads.

The consumer magazine published a photo of one of the deceptive ads Facebook approved, which reads, "Coronavirus is a HOAX. We're being manipulated with fear."

So, how can the public identify the false advertisements that make it through automated review processes?

1. Ad publishers can be fake, too

People and groups who publish false or misleading advertisements often submit these deceptive ads under fake names, like Waddell did for his report. Users should research publisher names before believing everything an ad says.

People who publish false ads often go for topics that spark emotion such as political, social and religious issues.

2. Photos and videos can be manipulated

Photos and videos labeled as advertisements may be altered to make someone appear as though they said something they never said, especially political advertisements.

Facebook does not apply the same standards to political ads as it does to other types of ads, so it is important to research political ads seen on the platform before taking their word.

Low-quality photos and videos may be another indicator of false advertisements, though most bad actors can easily upload high-quality material.

3. Emotional ads may be deceptive

An ad designed to play on users' emotions could be a sign that it is deceptive, Ann Ravel, director of the Digital Deception Solutions project at nonpartisan nonprofit MapLight, told AARP.

4. False ads often relate to current events

False advertisements often circulate around current events, Eugene Kiely, director of nonpartisan fact-checking site FactCheck.org, told the site.

Deceptive ads published by Russian actors before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election were focused on candidates and the issues they focused on in their respective campaigns.

5. Always be skeptical 

Users should research claims made in advertisements that appear to be misleading. If an ad looks suspicious, users should then report that ad to the platform on which it was published since it was likely mistakenly approved during a review process.