Facebook's ad transparency rules caused delays for advertisers

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(June 29): Facebook Inc.’s advertisers have experienced delays in posting their promotions in the U.S., as the company implements a broad rule for verifying ads about political issues.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said that while the delays won’t meaningfully affect Facebook’s revenue this quarter, they have caused headaches for customers.

“We have definitely gotten complaints,” Sandberg said Thursday during a briefing at the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters. Many advertisers have been blocked when they tried to run ads because of Facebook’s wide definition for “political.”

Facebook adopted the new rules in response to an effort by Russia to use the social network to influence U.S. voters during the 2016 presidential election. The company is choosing to require verification from customers for ads related to broad political issues, like education and poverty. Advertisers that may have been affected by the rules include, for example, a news organization promoting an article about immigration, an author marketing a book about a president, or a nonprofit trying to raise money for a cause.

Once an ad has been blocked, Facebook required an advertiser to send in verification information, including the last four digits of a Social Security number, and receive a piece of mail from the company at a residential address before they can continue posting.

“We do not like the delays in the system,” Sandberg said. “No one likes them -- we don’t like them either -- but I think it’s an inevitable part of the process.”

While Facebook warned advertisers about the coming rule, it shocked those who didn’t consider their messages political. All of the ads related to political issues will be held in an archive for seven years. The company chose a broad labeling in part because anything less would require Facebook to get into difficult debates about what is political.

“It gets hard to draw those lines, saying this is a nonprofit and this isn’t,” Sandberg said. “We’re not saying all these things are political, we just chose to be as inclusive as possible. We’re not labeling them political ads, we’re just being as transparent as possible.”

The company will be rolling out the political ad archive to other countries soon. Meanwhile, it’s working on other transparency tools that will affect all advertisers. Facebook said Thursday it’s now possible for users to see all the ads that a page is running at any given time, making good on a promise to bring more information to the public. U.S. lawmakers have criticized social media sites for failing to stop the Russian manipulation and have introduced legislation that would subject online political ads to similar disclosure rules to those on radio and television.

Twitter Inc., which was also used by the Russians to sow discord, on Thursday announced transparency initiatives. Anyone will be able to search for a Twitter account and see all the ads it has run in the past seven days, the company said. For U.S. political advertisers, users will be able to see billing information, ad spending, demographic targeting data and the number of times tweets have been viewed. - Bloomberg