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Facebook Wants to Self-Regulate Political Advertising, Provide Russian Ads to Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced significant changes to the way the social network is handling political advertising in a live stream on his Facebook page Thursday afternoon. Most notably, the company is starting to roll out self-regulation measures that are designed to provide more transparency in an age of hyper-targeted online advertising.

In the future, Facebook will require political advertisers to disclose which page paid for an ad — something Zuckerberg likened to the disclaimers required in political advertising on traditional TV.

Moreover, buyers of political ads will have to make all of their ads available for public review. In essence, this will make it possible for a user to click through on an ad that targeted her or him, and then see what other kinds of messages the advertiser is using to target other demographic audiences. “We will roll this out over the coming months, and we will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg also announced that the company is providing Congress with ads used by Russian advertisers in an attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election. The company had announced two weeks ago that it had found over 3000 ads paid for by a state-linked Russian entity, and said it would share these ads with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and his team.

This caused for some backlash, and questions why the company wouldn’t share these ads more widely. Zuckerberg said that he instructed the team Thursday morning to make them available to Congress as well. However, Facebook VP of policy and communications Elliot Schrage explained that the company wouldn’t make these ads available to the public, writing in a blog post:

“Federal law places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information. Given the sensitive national security and privacy issues involved in this extraordinary investigation, we think Congress is best placed to use the information we and others provide to inform the public comprehensively and completely.”

Zuckerberg said Thursday that the company would continue to invest in security and election integrity, and also continue its own internal investigation into election meddling. As part of that probe, Facebook is not just looking at ads from Russia, but also from other Eastern European countries, as well as the political campaigns themselves, he said.

He also called on other tech companies to follow Facebook’s lead, and cooperate more closely on election integrity. “It is important that tech companies collaborate on this because it’s almost certain that any actor trying to misuse Facebook will also be trying to abuse other internet platforms too,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg’s statements came as social platforms are increasingly under the microscope for the way they are being used by state-sponsored actors to influence elections. Its attempts to institute self-regulation can also be seen as signal to Congress that it doesn’t need to step in to regulate political advertising in the new medium.

At the same time, the address seemed to signal that this won’t be the last time that Facebook expects to find itself in the spotlight on issues like this one. “There will always be bad people in the world, and we can’t prevent all governments from all interference,” Zuckerberg said. “But we can make it harder.”

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