Facebook said it will provide detailed information on advertiser targeting criteria to academic researchers on all advertisements related to social, electoral, and political issues on its platform from August 2020 onwards. The announcement is part of a new Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) program and is an expansion of the pilot by Facebook in the run-up to the US presidential election in 2020.
The Meta company will start sharing the information with researchers by the end of this month. The shared information will include details on categories such as interest, location, and demographics used by advertisers for specific ads.
Jeff King, vice president of Business Integrity at Facebook said, the FORT program was launched to help qualified academic researchers understand the impact of social media advertising on society.
In addition to helping researchers, Facebook is also planning to add a summary of targeted information on social, electoral, and political ads to its publicly available ad library. This summary will reveal; how many such ads were run by a page and used which interest categories. It will also show the share of ad spending to target these specific categories.
King explains, “the ad library could show that over the last 30 days, a page ran 2,000 ads about social issues, elections or politics, and that 40% of their spend on these ads was targeted to people who live in Pennsylvania or people who are interested in politics.”
King points out, that making this information available will help people understand the practices used to reach potential voters using Facebook and provide meaningful transparency.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the role of political advertising on social media especially during elections was widely criticized.
The UK-based social media monitoring platform was accused of illegally acquiring data of over 50 million Facebook users and using it to allegedly manipulate voters in the US with targeted political ads.
To minimize the misuse or manipulation of political ads, Facebook and Google have blocked political ads completely in the runup to elections in various countries. For instance, in January 2021, Google reportedly blocked all political ads related to the US Capitol attack until Joe Biden’s inauguration as president. Before the 2020 US elections, Facebook also banned political ads in the US to reduce misinformation.
Advertising is the primary source of revenue for Facebook and accounted for 97.9% of the company’s global revenue in 2020, as per Statista. When Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency feature that requires the app to seek permission before tracking users, it cost Facebook close to $10 billion a year, the company claimed in an investor call in February.