Facebook Ads Falsely Labeled 'Approved By' US Senators

John Lister's picture

A report suggests that Facebook approved advertisements falsely claiming to be paid for by each of the 100 sitting US Senators. The VICE News investigation uncovered a major loophole in what was meant to be a transparency measure.

Following revelations of Russian interference with bogus posts and ads designed to disrupt the US political system, Facebook brought in several measures to restrict who is allowed to post such ads.

One such measure was a new rule stating that any political ad must carry the name of the person who has paid for it, similar to the rules on broadcasting. The rule also says only US citizens can pay for such ads.

The idea is to make it easier to see when somebody is pushing a viewpoint or a news story (true or otherwise), particularly when the same person is pushing conflicting messages to different audiences.

Name Changed After Verification

VICE initially bought four ads on Facebook and went through the verification process, which involved sending the name of the company behind the ad along with a picture of valid driver license and the final four digits of the relevant Social Security number.

The problem was that a flaw in the process means its possible to get approval then change the name that appears beside the ad. VICE used this loophole to get three ads approved which would carry the words "Paid for by," and then the names of Vice President Mike Pence; the head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez; and simply "ISIS". A fourth ad which would have been listed as paid for by Hilary Clinton was rejected.

VICE says that it didn't go ahead and publish the approved ads and names, which would have been copies of real images used by Russia as part of previous disruption campaigns.

'Zuckerberg' Ad Rejected

To further test the loophole, VICE then bought 100 ads and sought approval for them, having changed the listed names after verification to those of US Senators. All 100 were approved. A 101st ad, which would have carried the notice "Paid for by Mark Zuckerberg" (the founder and head of Facebook) was rejected. (Source: vice.com)

VICE isn't alone. Business Insider also successfully tested the loophole by placing an ad and posting it as "Paid for by Cambridge Analytica". That's a now defunct business that caused controversy with its use of social network data. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised such a loophole existed? Is it realistic to expect Facebook to better verify who is really behind an ad on the site? Would it cause even more disruption if bogus ads appeared to be the work of real politicians?

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ehowland's picture

Fakebook is and should never be a "Source" of news by anyone, every link to an external source is a potential trojan/virus. Every article is likely nonsense and should be taken with a huge pile of salt grains...

Dennis Faas's picture

Unfortunately the younger generation gets their news from Facebook (and their friends as a source of news), and I don't see that trend changing any time soon. Newspapers are antiquated, even though they are 1000x more credible than Facebook. The fact is, there are billions of active Facebook users and everything is shared online these days. Compare that to a newspaper which can't be "shared" freely, and you are comparing apples to oranges. To dismiss Facebook as a failure in this respect isn't looking at the whole picture.

ehowland's picture

Just because many (but not all) young facebook users are lazy and insist on getting info from a terrible source does not make it good.

psb_11535's picture

One of the first signs of FAKE NEWS is an article that begins with "A report suggests that". What report? Who or what generated the report? Is the report from a reliable source? Is there a political source behind the report?