mobile web app social media

tongcom photographer/Shutterstock (Licensed)

Facebook will have to tell you who’s paying for political ads

Political ads will finally gain a much-needed degree of transparency.


Christina Bonnington


Posted on Dec 18, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 7:36 am CDT

The revelations made about social media advertisements during the 2016 election cycle have been troubling, but it looks like the Federal Election Commission is finally doing something about it.

The regulatory agency recently said just like political ads on traditional media such as TV and radio, ads on Facebook must include disclaimers letting you know who paid for the ad.

It’s a smart move in increasing transparency of advertisements online—an issue that has unfortunately proven worthy of our attention.

Congress first made a push toward heavier regulation earlier in 2017 with the Honest Ads Act. Proposed in October, the legislation would have required exactly what the Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently decided: Online political advertisements must disclose the entities behind those ads.

The FEC’s mandate, stated below in a letter to the Take Back Action Fund, is the first time the agency has said that political organizations need to follow the same rules with online ads as they’ve had to do with print, radio, and TV ads.

Online political ads previously didn’t have to disclose their ties because, in 2011, internet companies including Google and Facebook claimed the ads were too small for that information to be included.

During the 2016 election, ads targeting mostly conservative Facebook users slammed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and promoted anti-Muslim sentiment. Other ads highlighted issues such as gun control, police brutality, and immigration. During investigations by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Facebook turned over more than 3,000 of these Russia-linked ads, and Russian operatives reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on them.

The FEC’s opinion comes just in time. With 2018 mid-term election cycle is around the corner, Republican incumbents are going to be looking to convince voters that they still have their best interests at heart, while Democratic upstarts will work to snag those House and Senate seats.

In 2016, political candidates spent more than $1.4 billion on online political advertisements. That number is sure to grow next year, and with that much money flowing into ads, it’s important that voters know who is shelling the cash.

H/T Fast Company

Share this article
*First Published: Dec 18, 2017, 4:25 pm CST