Facebook Delays Identity Checks on UK Political Ads | Software Advisory Service

Facebook Delays Identity Checks on UK Political Ads

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Facebook Delays Identity Checks on UK Political Ads


The social media giant is postponing the roll-out of mandatory ID checks on UK political ads, following reports of system manipulation.


It was back in April 2018, that Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer, released a statement saying that new measures would be introduced in the UK to help improve transparency on the social network.


Such measures would require any individual, or entity, to complete an authorisation process if they wanted to run political ads on the social media platform. Obviously, this would also mean that campaign ads featured on Facebook will be accompanied by clear disclaimers showing who paid for the ad and that they are political in nature. A necessity, we believe, after the disaster that was Facebook’s role in the US presidential election back in 2016.


These measures were supposed to become mandatory for political advertisers back in November 7th, but Facebook, perhaps unsurprisingly, pulled the plug at the very last minute. In a statement, a Facebook representative confirmed that the release of identity checks for UK political adverts had been delayed following reports that the system can easily be subverted.


The statement indicated that the delay was indeed necessary due to certain individuals, or groups, attempting to manipulate the social network’s authentication process – with great success. Apparently, Facebook’s ID system had several weaknesses, most of which were exposed when several news sites posed as banned organisations, terror groups, and US politicians.


Vague Disclosures


Facebook decided to delay the rollout once it realized how easily its users could manipulate the process. The company will eventually institute the authentication requirement once it adds more stable and secure enforcement systems to ensure accuracy.


Reportedly, Business Insider was one of the news sites that conducted a deeper examination of the new protocol. Undercover journalists created a bogus anti-Brexit ads attributed to none other than Cambridge Analytica, while journalists from Vice News initiated fake ads linked to the terror group ISIS. They were all approved – without any hiccups.


Facebook has stated that it required all applicants to represent themselves accurately. However, the social media company has approved all disclosures without regard for in the inconsistencies of the information provided. A Facebook spokesperson said, “Since we announced our political ads authorization and Ad Library in October, we have seen hundreds of people go through the authorization process. Authorized advertisers create a ‘paid for by’ disclaimer as a part of this process and we require them to represent themselves accurately when they fill this in.”


What About Other Social Networks?


Facebook is not the only company struggling with their security and authentication.


Other social media platforms have also started implementing their own authentication requirements for political adverts, though they are taking a very different approach. Twitter, for example, requires all US political advertisers to disclose who paid for the ads. Additionally, they require the advertisers to link the post to an employer record, thereby making it harder for unscrupulous parties to create bogus identities.


When asked, Facebook declined to provide a specific date for the final phase of its UK release of the ad transparency rules. Instead, a representative commented that “Once we have strengthened our process for ensuring the accuracy of disclaimers, we will be introducing enforcement systems to identify political advertisers and require them to go through the authentication process.”


In the wake of this, Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent for Sky News, claimed that “This news is extremely embarrassing for Facebook, which has been trailing its identity check system for some time as the solution to every political question that comes up, and there have been many. Bluntly put, the current arrangement doesn’t work – which, given that it was already considered insufficient by many people working in the field, is extremely troubling indeed.”


With local elections in the UK being right around the corner, in May 2019, it’s clear that the social networking giant is under a ton of pressure to improve its identity checks. And while Facebook is struggling to find solutions, its rival Twitter offers stricter and more efficient disclosure policies that links disclaimers to employment records, thereby minimising the occurrence of shady adverts and other forms of abuse. Things aren’t looking too bright for Facebook at the moment.


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