Facebook remains coy on plans for Australian election advertising measures

Facebook will not be rolling out any special features to prevent interference in March’s NSW state election, but is planning to announce a series of measures ahead of the upcoming Federal election.

The plans come a day after Facebook communications chief Nick Clegg announced a range of measures during a visit to Brussels, which included election monitoring centres in Dublin and Singapore.

In his speech, Clegg said: “In recent years, we have played a growing role in elections. In theory, this should be a good thing but we’ve also seen how we that can be abused.”

The former UK deputy Prime Minister, who joined Facebook last October, was speaking after the company fights to retain credibility after a year which saw the service under siege after series of scandals where political organisations had misused the platform to sway election results.

Clegg said a range of electoral integrity measures will be rolled out ahead of the EU elections in May: “In late March we will launch new tools to make political advertising on Facebook more transparent.

“We will require those wanting to run political and issue ads to be authorised, having to display ‘a paid for by’ disclaimer on those ads.”

These tools however will not be available for the NSW elections to be held on March 23.

Clegg also announced that political and issue ads — communication that does not explicitly back a candidate but focuses on highly politicised topics like immigration — would be stored in a publicly searchable library for seven years.

There would be information available on the money spent, the number of impressions displayed, who paid for the advertising and demographic details on the audience including age, gender and location.

It is not clear whether this database will be available for the Australian Federal election expected to be held in May.

Facebook have also claimed to have increased the number of people working on safety and security issues worldwide to 30,000 over the last year. The Dublin and Singapore regional operations centres, are expected to provide an additional layer of defence, according to the company.

Clegg spoke to an invite-only event in Brussels

Speaking about the structure of the teams reviewing electoral integrity, Clegg said: “This effort will boost our rapid response effort to fight misinformation bringing together dozens of experts from threat intelligence, data science engineering, research, community operations and legal.

“We will work closely with law makers, election commissions, other tech companies, academics and civil society groups.

“We will continue to fight against fake news, prevent the spread of voter suppression efforts and further integrate the large number of teams working on these issues across Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.”

Clegg’s announcement came on the same weekend The Guardian accused Facebook of crippling the political advertising monitoring features their transparency project relies upon.

The Guardian reported ProPublica’s Ad Collector Tool and the Who Targeted Me plug in, which report the origin of adverts appearing on users’ pages, had stopped working after changes by the company.

Mumbrella understands Facebook identified these tools as ad-scrapers – software that copies information from a site rather than through data provided by a service’s API. Generally scrapers are seen as undesirable by the online community.

Antonia Sanda, Facebook’s Australian spokesperson, told Mumbrella: “We regularly improve the ways we prevent unauthorized access by third parties like web browser plugins to keep people’s information safe.

“This was a routine update and applied to ad blocking and ad scraping plugins, which can expose people’s information to bad actors in ways they did not expect.”


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