The fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal has led to a number of significant changes to its advertising platform over the past couple of weeks. Today, Facebook announced new, specific policies for “Increased Transparency and Accountability for Electoral and Issue Ads.”

Here’s what it means:

  • Your account will need to be “authorized” by Facebook in order to run “electoral or issue-based” ads.
  • These ads will be labeled as “Political Ad” and will display “paid for by” information.
  • Page administrators with “large numbers of followers” will need to be verified.

Cambridge Analytica Fallout

British consulting company Cambridge Analytica violated Facebook’s terms of service during the 2016 election by using sensitive Facebook data of at least 87 million users obtained from a third party through a personality quiz app that mined Facebook information about the user and their friends. This allowed the Trump campaign to serve highly targeted paid ads to voters. The Obama campaign used a similar technique but it was not a violation of Facebook’s terms of service at the time.

When this news broke, Facebook began taking action almost immediately, despite the fact that they knew about this breach two-and-a-half years ago. They began by removing tools from all Facebook advertisers, including custom audience size estimates, removing partner categories, restricting certain new APIs, and paused their app review process.

Today’s announcement is the first that specifically targets political elections and issues.

Details Are Sketchy

Facebook was a bit vague in their announcement. Here are a few questions that immediately come to mind but were not addressed:

  • What constitutes an “issue ad?” All they had to say about this was, “We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time.” It remains to be seen what issues will get flagged and if history is any indication, this will be a very fickle and subjective process. I predict it will be extremely frustrating for politicians and issue advocates.
  • How does the authorization process work? Again, they only vaguely described it by saying, “We started testing the authorization process this week, and people will begin seeing the label and additional information in the US later this spring.”
  • Will there be an appeal process? There was no mention either way.
  • Which Pages will be affected? Their metric was a Page with “large numbers of followers.” They did not offer any guidance on where that line would be drawn.

What Should You Do?

If you’re an elected official or political candidate, we recommend that you get your page and/or profile verified immediately. This process used to take several days but I wouldn’t be surprised if that period starts to take much longer as the demand increases. Very few candidates are even aware of this feature so the sooner you get in line, the sooner you’ll get verified.

Most of all, keep your ear to the ground and stay tuned for further updates. The changes have been coming fast and furious for the past two weeks and are not likely to slow down. Facebook tends to bend with the wind a little bit and with Mark Zuckerberg set to testify before Congress on April 10th, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more fallout.

Social Media Webinar

One, last shameless plug: We’ve announced a webinar series on Social Media for Political Campaigns that will begin on April 19th. We’re going to cover digital strategies, mastering Facebook, advertising on Facebook, mastering Twitter, content essentials, and the digital toolbox.

Click on the image to learn more:

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