Facebook will begin instituting stricter rules for political advertisements, weeks before the Model Code of Conduct for the 2019 general elections sets in. All Facebook ads related to India’s politics will have to abide by the company’s ads authorisation process by February 21 or will be removed “to prevent future abuse in elections”, the company has stated.
With this authorisation process, that was launched in India in December, political advertisements will now display details of their publishers and funders. In other countries, the label reads “paid for by”, but in India, there will be an option for advertisers to label their ad with the disclaimer “published by”, because the company’s India research showed that option to make more cultural sense.
“For the disclaimer, authorized advertisers can name themselves, a Page they run or another organization as the entity behind the ad. If they name another organization, we’ll also require additional credentials – like a phone number, email and website OR a Media Certifcation & Monitoring Committee Certi?cate from India’s Elections Committee. This is to help make sure the organization cited is authentic,” the company said.
On Thursday, the company also launched a political ad portal, which will archive all Indian political ads with their audience demographics and funding details for seven years. Political ads without authorisation that are caught by either the company’s internal systems or user reports will be removed from the news feed and added to the archive portal.
Shivnath Thukral, public policy director for Facebook India, told The Indian Express: “Protecting the integrity of elections is a top priority for Facebook. By bringing more transparency to political ads and pages on Facebook, we hope to increase accountability for advertisers and help people assess the content they’re seeing. In addition to product and policy changes, we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to proactively identify abuse. We believe this will drive greater authenticity and responsibility over time – not just for Facebook but for advertisers as well.”
This system includes all “ads that reference political figures, political parties, elections, and ads that advocate for or against legislation”.
It also includes an ad if it “is made by, on behalf of, or about a current or former candidate for public office, a political party, a political action committee, or advocates for the outcome of an election to public office; or relates to any election, referendum, or ballot initiative, including ‘get out the vote’ or election information campaigns; or relates to any national legislative issue of public importance in any place where the ad is being run; or is regulated as political advertising”.
These specifications apply to advertisers who reside in India or who plan to target users in India.
Advertisers will need to provide a PAN number or voter’s ID number, and will also require an Indian passport and an Indian driver’s license.
The Indian Express reported in October that Facebook was planning on implementing this process in India after similar rollouts in the US, Brazil, and the UK. Some rules regarding Nigeria’s election were also on the Facebook business website. Several help pages on the website provide information for the US and the UK, but have not been updated to discuss India-specific rules.
Facebook ads with political content in the US came under sharp criticism after reports that foreigners bought political ads on the platform to influence the 2016 presidential election. Since then, studies submitted to the US Congress show how false accounts made by a group of Russians attempted to target niche sections of American society to polarise the population before the election.
Beginning May 2018, Facebook instituted the ads authorisation and archive system in the US.
Facebook’s Richard Allen, who is vice president of Global Policy Solutions, told a group of Delhi mediapersons in October that because targeted ads were of broad categories and not just about political parties, Facebook decided to broaden the US ad policy to all content of political and national importance.
However, the India system is slightly different from the US one. India’s system will not regulate ads according to nationally important issues unless the ad discusses legislation, a Facebook source told The Indian Express. In contrast, the US rules included a list of nationally important issues that fall under the system’s gambit including topics such as abortion, health, and economy.
“Note: At this time, we won’t enforce on a specific list of national issues of public importance in India. You should use your own judgment and any applicable local requirements to determine whether your ad is related to an ‘issue of national importance’ in your country. Issues may be topics discussed or debated at a national level that may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing or proposed legislation,” the company’s website states.
Allen added that one of the difficulties was distinguishing news sources and political propaganda disguised as news sources.
The policy will not apply to news publishers and will define those institutions in India using three lists from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Audit Bureau of Circulation, and Comscore.
Allen had also said that Facebook will create a task force in the run up to India’s elections which will include security experts, community operations, and specialists who work with political parties. Along with the task-force in Delhi, scores of workers will help monitor advertisements and content, Allen said.
“For the disclaimer, authorized advertisers can name themselves, a Page they run or another organization as the entity behind the ad. If they name another organization, we’ll also require additional credentials – like a phone number, email and website OR a Media Certi?cation & Monitoring Committee Certi?cate from India’s Elections Committee. This is to help make sure the organization cited is authentic,” the company said.