Over the last few years, Facebook has come under increased criticism of its handling of political content on its platform. There have been governmental panels and committees before which Facebook has had to testify about the political activity that goes on regularly on their platform. Facebook was used by a bad actor from foreign countries to interfere in elections of strong democracies as an attack on these democracies. After such attacks came to light, many third-party monitoring tools and transparency tools came up to put a check on the advertising and content on Facebook. This move has got mixed reactions from the public and even drawn criticism from some quarters. The following are some of the details about the latest move by Facebook to block third party ad transparency tools Online:
Facebook Ad Transparency Tool
- There are several key elections on the ballot this year and Facebook is going to be used for promotion as well as misinformation campaigns online. This is why there have been many ad transparencies and monitoring tools that have propped up on Facebook.
- These tools are put up by journalism websites like ProPublica and activists, who have developed the WhoTargetsMe tool on Facebook. These tools operate in such a way that they create a searchable database of political ads on the website. This is sourced from Facebook users who use custom plug-ins to report political ads to these databases.
- ProPublicas Facebook Political Ad Collector has collected over 120,000 political ads and displayed information related to those ads for users. Over 22,000 users actively use this plug-ins to flag such ads on Facebook for ProPublica. ProPublica used plug-ins to report political ad buying an ad-based discrimination on Facebook. It has been operating this database for the last two years since the American election of 2016.
- Similarly, monitoring tools like WhoTargetsMe have collected information about political ads and why specific ads are shown to specific users on Facebook. These tools stopped working some days ago and the activists found it very hard to get these tools back and working on Facebook.
- These third-party tools have been blocked by Facebook by obfuscating the code. Facebook inserted a code that prevents the use of web plug-ins that helps automate the collection of information from all over Facebook for such tools.
- Facebook was severely criticized by many media agencies and international watchdogs for this move. It was a move that was seen to hamper transparency especially in a time when bad actors from all over the world are using Facebook to manipulate elections all over the world.
- Facebook put out a statement saying that plug-ins that can scrape ads can expose people information and this data can then be misused. Facebook says they have banned such plug-ins so that people’s data will not be misused in any way as protecting user’s data is very important to Facebook.
- Facebook believes this change has been initiated to deal with ad blockers, not about tools that research and abuse. Facebook says databases can be built like the transparency tool database, but for a negative reason.
- Databases targeting religion, race or any particular group can be built by governments just like the ad transparency database using such plug-ins by accessing personal information of users.
- Facebook is trying to provide an argument that user data safety is more important than transparency tool.
This has definitely come as a setback to activists and transparency organizations all over the world. Facebook has promised new steps to make ad buys more transparent and information more readily available to users. It was severely criticized by many governments in the past for its platform being misused in the past. There were reports of Facebook pages and ads that targeted voters in America which were paid for by foreign agents looking to interfere in the American election. Many elections in Europe were also targeted by foreign agents and misinformation campaigns were run just before election seasons in these countries. The world is a much divided place right now and Facebook is being used to further divide and alienate groups of people from each other. Facebook has an important role in the world today and has to be responsible for the content on its platform.