With an estimated 300 million users in India, Facebook is a political battleground among parties for promotions and peddling propaganda. It had faced allegations and outcry of manipulation in elections held in the US and Brazil.
With an aim to bring more transparency to political ads in India, Facebook announced a set of rules and regulations recently. By doing so, the social networking site hopes to increase accountability for advertisers, help people assess the content they're viewing and prevent future abuse in elections.
In an official statement released on February 7, Facebook said -
"We're committed to creating a new standard of transparency and authenticity for political advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Ahead of India's general elections, we're making big changes to ads that reference political ﬁgures, political parties, elections and ads that advocate for or against legislation. We ﬁrst announced these plans back in December, when advertisers were able to begin authorizations on mobile - verifying their identity and location to run political ads. Starting today:
People will begin to see political ads with "Published by" or "Paid for by" disclaimers that have been speciﬁed by advertisers. This will give people more information about who's responsible for the ads they see.
People can access a searchable Ad Library to learn more about ads related to politics, including range of impressions and spend and demographics of who saw the ad.
In the coming weeks, people will start seeing the country locations of the people managing Pages that run political ads to better understand the origin of the Page.
When a person clicks on the disclaimer, they'll be taken to a searchable Ad Library where they can see the ad's creative, start and end date, and performance data, including range of impressions, range of spend, and information about who saw the ad, like age, gender and location across India. The disclaimer credentials will also appear in the Ad Library. The Ad Library archives political ads for up to seven years and is available to anyone, regardless of whether they are logged into facebook or not at facebook.com/ads/archive. In March, India will also have its own Ad Library Report, which helps more easily view insights about the ads in the library.
Enforcement and How to Report Ads
Enforcement of these new features and the Political Ads policy begins February 21. At that point, only advertisers who have completed authorizations and disclosed who's responsible for an ad will be allowed to run political ads in India. We will remove political ads running without a disclaimer in News Feed and will place them in the Ads Library.
Our systems won't catch every political ad that runs - so reports from others will be key. If people come across an ad and think it should include a disclaimer, they can tap the three dots at the top right-hand corner of the ad, and select "Report ad." If we ﬁnd the ad relates to politics, we'll remove it and add it to the Library, where it will be accessible for seven years. News publishers who are members of or appear in recognized industry groups and lists - or who have been validated by oﬃcial sources in India - are not subject to the authorizations, transparency and enforcement requirements provided by the policy.
More Page Transparency
We also want people to know more about the Pages running these ads. This month, we'll start showing the primary country location of the people who manage Pages running or paying for political ads in India. This information can be found in the Page's "Info and Ads" section, along with all the ads the Page is currently running, even if they're not targeted to you.
We are also making it harder for people to administer a Page in India using a fake or compromised account. In the coming weeks, people who manage Pages with a large audience in India will need to secure their account with two-factor authentication and conﬁrm their primary country location to be able to continue to post to their Pages."
Meanwhile, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company has been investing heavily in artificial intelligence and hiring a specialised workforce to check violence and abuse of the platform.
In another big move, the social networking giant has roped in veteran journalist and television news anchor, Natasha Jog, as its election integrity lead for India. According to recent reports, Jog will report to Facebook's public policy director, global elections - Katie Harbath.
Last year, the firm hired BBC senior digital strategist, Trushar Barot to lead Facebook India's fight against fake news. Jog and Barot's appointment is a major step in addressing the Election Commission's escalating concern over possible misuse of Facebook in the electoral process.
With the latest turn of events, the new-found transparency is expected to receive applause from netizens but may also draw flak from political parties and/or advertisers.
afaqs! reached out to industry experts to find out what kind of ripple effect it will have on those outside the political advertising space and who in the programmatic online advertising purchase funnel will be most affected. We also wanted to know what this means for the digital advertising ecosystem, as a whole.
Here's what they have to say:-
According to N Chandramouli, CEO, Trust Research Advisory (a brand intelligence and data insights company), this action by Facebook was long overdue and after its misuse in the US elections, they have begun to take the first steps in the right direction. He also believes that while this is an important step, it is by no means enough.
"By bringing more scrutiny into election advertising, one can expect lesser propaganda, but unscrupulous campaigners and interests have a way of finding new ways of influencing a voting pattern. The bigger worry has always been the false news which Facebook has been a medium of; one that creates rifts and chasms between people. This will not only be difficult but impossible for them to control or eradicate by the very nature of Facebook, as it is a free and open platform promoting expression," he adds.
Chandramouli is also of the opinion that ad statistics given by Facebook or other digital platforms like YouTube have been misleading advertisers in the pretext of engagement and views, whereas, promoted content almost always gets ignored. If Facebook takes its privacy laws seriously, then it will have little to target users with and in turn, advertisers will have no reason to put their money on the platform.
"Facebook users will be the most affected, for they are the victims of all actions taken by Facebook," he says, adding, "The entire digital advertising ecosystem needs a desperate overhaul. Many of the monopolistic digital platforms hold so much information about users that it is scary."
Saurabh Uboweja, an international brand expert and chief executive officer, Brands of Desire (Management Consulting firm focused on Building Brands) says that it is a positive move as it helps in bringing in the much-needed trust back to the social media space.
"It is an effort to regain the brand's trust which has taken a major beating due to the spread of malicious or fake campaigns since Donald Trump's presidential campaign," he says.
Uboweja, however, maintains that the implication would result in reduced spends on FB advertising as it is assumed that a significantly large number of advertisers wouldn't want to disclose their source.
"Advertisers and agencies will have to submit an address (location) and identity proofs in order to run ads. They will be impacted the most as they would be closely scrutinised. It will adversely impact the revenues of advertising agencies. However, these guidelines are limited to political advertising and may not have any effect on non-political advertising," he states.
Gopa Kumar, executive vice president - Isobar India, is of the opinion that it is a welcome step by Facebook and a global policy for all political ads. Anyone trying to propagate false messages or with an intention to mislead the people through Facebook as a platform will now be kept under check.
He says, "While the move pertains to only political ads, its impact is limited to this particular facet of digital advertising only. It will make everything transparent and every party/advertiser accountable. It will also be interesting to see how FB deals with 'social influencer' messaging which is also a covert way of advertising and whether these rules bind them too, as this form of promotion is difficult to catch."
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO and founder of Brand-Comm states that the latest decision by Facebook will affect all brands as the cost of ads will go up with inventory being scarce.
He says, "E-commerce players will be affected the most. It would hit FB and other social media platforms' revenues very badly and could lead to more print ads and bigger spends on production."
With regard to what it would mean in the long run, Sridhar states, "Political ads will have to get more creative. It's possible that the overall spend on ads would be less than anticipated. Many may no longer look at FB to connect with supporters."
Nimesh Shah, head maven, Windchimes (a digital experiential agency) believes that the biggest beneficiary of Facebook's decision would be other digital publishers and that a lot of native language publications will gain with this move as they might be more flexible.
"Given that FB has gotten strict and has taken tangible steps to increase transparency, all the money that is kept aside for spreading political misinformation will find itself on other platforms where such tight controls aren't in place. So, to that effect, there will be that much higher consumption of inventory of other sites," he says.
Shah adds, "Some premium digital publishers might have the leverage to jack up their prices too. The other advertisers will have to pay more to get inventory on those sites or may have to forego premium inventory for this period."
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