Facebook Not Complying With Political Ad Disclosures, Study Finds 'Dubious' Sources Using Tactics Similar To Russia's

An exhaustive study conducted by academic researchers at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering found "systemic flaws" in Facebook's political advertising monitoring and enforcement, with many of the worst offenders exhibiting the same disinformation and non-disclosure issues that Russia's Internet Research Agency used to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The study, "A Security Analysis of the Facebook Ad Library," examined a year's worth of political ads appearing on Facebook through April 2019, and found that 55% failed to comply with Facebook's most basic policies for disclosing their funding sources.



Even more alarming, the researchers found that many of the ads were "placed by likely inauthentic advertisers, often using disinformation tactics similar to those employed by the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency.

"These tactics included targeting readers by race, gender, union membership, or veteran status – identity markers well known to be highly effective in organically spreading messages."
The study identified 19,526 ads worth at least $3.86 million placed by such "inauthentic communities," and that just as in 2016, when Facebook users engaged with these ads their data was collected for future political retargeting.

The researchers also found that when Facebook discovered such inauthentic political ad operatives, it took them an average of 210 days to shut them down.

"Dubious commercial operations promoting, for example, 'TrumpCare,' 'Christian Health Plans,' or 'Heroes Home Buyers Program' – none registered legal entities – used similar micro-targeting tactics and violated Facebook disclosure policies," the study noted, adding: "These were most prevalent in the Midwest and Rust Belt."

4 comments about "Facebook Not Complying With Political Ad Disclosures, Study Finds 'Dubious' Sources Using Tactics Similar To Russia's".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 6, 2020 at 9:38 a.m.

    If only Bloomberg had spent a mere $100,000 on Facebook ads instead of $500 million on normal advertising, he'd surely be President. The media told us for three years that's how Trump won.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, March 6, 2020 at 10:38 a.m.


  3. Craig Jaffe from Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, March 6, 2020 at 10:56 a.m.

    Thank you to the academic researchers at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. To offer context to the analysis, would it be helpful for the researchers to also note the following marketplace statistics: 1) In 2016 the year of the U.S. Presidential election, Facebook made +528% more money selling ad space on its pages compared to the prior U.S. Presidential election year [see SEC]. 2) According to the Mueller Report, Russia ran thousands on advertisements on Facebook with the intention of influencing the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election, with ads that included anti-Clinton and pro-Trump advertisement campaigns [see https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=5955997-Muellerreport]. 3) Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, has been called the wealthiest person on the planet [see Fortune, 7/29/2019 “Vladimir Putin Is Reportedly Richer Than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos Combined”]. If Putin decides to authorize or direct advertising campaigns on Facebook supporting Trump again, how difficult would it be to identify the source of those ads? In the most recently reported full year (Jan-Dec 2018), Facebook made approximately $32 billion selling ad space to non-U.S. entities that ran advertisement campaigns on the pages of Facebook, and I imagine it might be difficult to positively identify all the different entities, given the expansiveness of dollars spent. It also seems as if Putin may have resources that could enable him to potentially spend billions of dollars on Facebook. It has elsewhere been reported by intelligence agencies the cracks that allowed Russia to interfere in 2016 have gotten wider since then. I'm interested in learning if there are planned next steps in your analysis. Thank you very much for your work on this subject so far.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 9, 2020 at 2:54 p.m.

    Say hello to imperialism. Zuckerborg and his toadies need some serious Riker's time.

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