Expanded Transparency and More Controls for Political Ads

By Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management

Learn more about how we’re increasing transparency around political ads on Facebook

New features will allow people to see fewer political and social issue ads on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re updating our Ad Library to increase the level of transparency it provides for people and giving them more control over the ads they see.

The Ad Library is a unique tool to shine a light on political and social issue ads — a public archive that allows people to see all the ads politicians and campaigns are running on Facebook and Instagram and those that have run in the past. This is an important step in making political ads more transparent and advertisers more accountable: the public can see every ad served to anyone in an easily searchable database.

We first launched the Ad Library in May 2018 and over the past several months we have spoken to dozens of political campaigns, activists, NGOs, nonprofits and volunteers about our policies for political ads. Two themes we heard were that first, people want more transparency over who is using ads to try to influence voters and second, they want more control over the ads they see. So today, we are announcing a number of updates to do just that.

  • View audience size in the Ad Library: We are adding ranges for Potential Reach, which is the estimated target audience size for each political, electoral or social issue ad so you can see how many people an advertiser wanted to reach with every ad.
  • Better Ad Library search and filtering: We are adding the ability to search for ads with exact phrases, better grouping of similar ads, and adding several new filters to better analyze results — e.g. audience size, dates and regions reached. This will allow for more efficient and effective research for voters, academics or journalists using these features.
  • Control over Custom Audiences from a list: Later this month we will begin rolling out a control to let people choose how an advertiser can reach them with a Custom Audience from a list. These Custom Audiences are built when an advertiser uploads a hashed list of people’s information, such as emails or phone numbers, to help target ads. This control will be available to all people on Facebook and will apply to all advertisers, not just those running political or social issue ads. People have always been able to hide all ads from a specific advertiser in their Ad Preferences or directly in an ad. But now they will be able to stop seeing ads based on an advertiser’s Custom Audience from a list — or make themselves eligible to see ads if an advertiser used a list to exclude them. For example, if a candidate has chosen to exclude you from seeing certain fundraising ads because they don’t think you will donate again, but you still want a chance to see those ads, you can stop yourself from being excluded. 
  • See fewer political ads: Seeing fewer political and social issue ads is a common request we hear from people. That’s why we plan to add a new control that will allow people to see fewer political and social issue ads on Facebook and Instagram. This feature builds on other controls in Ad Preferences we’ve released in the past, like allowing people to see fewer ads about certain topics or remove interests. 

The expanded transparency features will roll out in the first quarter of 2020 and will apply in all countries where we facilitate “Paid for by” disclaimers on ads. We plan to deploy the political ads control starting in the US early this summer, eventually expanding this preference to more locations. 

Our Political Ads Policy

There has been much debate in recent months about political advertising online and the different approaches that companies have chosen to take. While Twitter has chosen to block political ads and Google has chosen to limit the targeting of political ads, we are choosing to expand transparency and give more controls to people when it comes to political ads.  

Unlike Google, we have chosen not to limit targeting of these ads. We considered doing so, but through extensive outreach and consultations we heard about the importance of these tools for reaching key audiences from a wide range of NGOs, non-profits, political groups and campaigns, including both Republican and Democratic committees in the US. And when it comes to targeting our data actually indicates over 85% of spend by US presidential candidates on Facebook is for ad campaigns targeted to audiences estimated to be greater than 250,000.

Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies, which is why we are arguing for regulation that would apply across the industry. The Honest Ads Act is a good example — legislation that we endorse and many parts of which we’ve already implemented — and we are engaging with policy makers in the European Union and elsewhere to press the case for regulation too. Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.

In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies. We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public. This does not mean that politicians can say whatever they like in advertisements on Facebook. All users must abide by our Community Standards, which apply to ads and include policies that, for example, ban hate speech, harmful content and content designed to intimidate voters or stop them from exercising their right to vote. We regularly disallow ads from politicians that break our rules. 

We recognize this is an issue that has provoked much public discussion — including much criticism of Facebook’s position. We are not deaf to that and will continue to work with regulators and policy makers in our ongoing efforts to help protect elections.

We are grateful to everyone who has engaged with us over the past several months. With these changes, we believe we offer unprecedented transparency and control for political ads, and look forward to continuing the discussions and updates over the next year.

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