NYU researchers find major systemic flaws in FB’s political advertising rules

A year-long analysis of Facebook’s ad library shows significant systemic flaws in monitoring and enforcing its political advertising rules, according to researchers from New York University (NYU),media reported. The questions were discovered by the New York University team during a review of the ad library between May 2018 and June 2019, which found that ads worth about $37 million did not accurately disclose who was paying for them.

Researchers Laura Edelson, Tobias Lauringer and Damon McCoy found that more than 86,000 facebook pages had political ads with misleading information, the report said. More than 19,000 ads appear to have been paid for by unreal communities, with several groups of pages selling almost identical images or messages aimed at voters in swing states.

The false ads used a disinformation strategy similar to that of the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), which includes targeting readers based on race, gender, union membership or veteran status, the report said. The IRA is believed to have been behind a 2016 cyberattack on Democratic National Committee emails.

A Facebook spokesman told The Verge in an email: “Our licensing and transparency measures have changed significantly since the research began,” adding that its platform provides greater political and problematic advertising transparency than television, radio or any other digital advertising platform.

NYU researchers find major systemic flaws in FB's political advertising rules

Researchers have found that vulnerabilities in Facebook’s advertising system could exempt malicious advertisers from accurately disclosing their political ads.

Facebook says it is reviewing the pages mentioned in the New York University researchers’ report. When a page hides its ownership to mislead users, Facebook needs additional information and a verification process to keep the page active. The company says less than 10 percent of its ads in its current ad library don’t have required disclaimers, but they end up labeling them.

Since the New York University study, Facebook has also tightened its requirements for political advertising, which requires the Federal Election Commission or tax ID numbers and other identity information. More updates to the ad gallery include letting users see fewer political ads expected to be available later this year.

Researchers at New York University have suggested that Facebook play a more active role in improving the security of its ad stores, but praised the platform’s steps to increase transparency, saying it was the only one that provided enough data for meaningful research. By contrast, Google’s problem ads, Twitter’s Transparency Center lists only a few hundred advertisers, and Facebook offers 126,000 pages of transparent political ads.