Facebook To Tighten Grip On Political Ads, As Zuckerberg Heads To Hill

Social media giant taking internal steps to curb toxic political advertisements

A protester with the group “Raging Grannies” holds a sign during a demonstration outside of Facebook headquarters on Thursday in Menlo Park, California.  The group is calling for better consumer protection and online privacy in the wake of Cambridge Analytica’s unauthorized access to data for up to 87 million Facebook users. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Facebook will tighten its requirements to place political advertisements on its platforms and officially endorsed bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would regulate online ads, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, announced Friday.

Zuckerberg’s announcement came four days before he is scheduled to speak to lawmakers in Washington.

In a Facebook post Friday, Zuckerberg officially endorsed the Honest Ads Act to regulate digital ads that could appear across the internet — including on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the bill last October.

The bill aims to levy regulations for online political advertisement into lockstep with existing ones for television and radio.

So far, McCain is the only Republican co-sponsor.

“Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook is rolling out new rules that will soon require advertisers for political issues — gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration — to verify their location and identity, even if the ads do not directly mention a political candidate or race. Advertisers must also disclose who paid for the ads.

The company is also hiring thousands of new staffers to comb through users who manage and operate “large pages” and verify that they are run by real people and not fake accounts.

These steps, Zuckerberg wrote, will make it much harder for sinister forces to run pages that “grow virally and spread misinformation or divisive content.”

Warner applauded Zuckerberg’s announcement in a statement Friday and encouraged other online platform companies to implement similar internal protections as Facebook.

“Most of the paid ads the Internet Research Agency ran on Facebook prior to the 2016 election didn’t mention Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump — but they did mention divisive political issues like guns, LGBT rights, immigration, and racial issues,” Warner said, referencing a Kremlin-linked company that seeks to influence world politics and business.

“That’s why today’s announcement by Facebook is so important,” Warner said. “I would encourage all of the platform companies to follow suit as we work toward making the Honest Ads Act the law of the land, ensuring that political ads sold online abide by the same disclosure rules as TV and radio ads.”

Senate leadership has not indicated it has imminent plans to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before a joint hearing of two Senate committees on Tuesday and a House committee on Wednesday, a highly anticipated public appearance.

He hopes to implement the verification protocols in time for the 2018 U.S. midterms but warned that the steps “won’t stop all people trying to game the system,” he said.

“But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads,” he added.

Watch: Intelligence Officials Aware of Russian Activity Aimed at 2018 Elections

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