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On Halloween, Facebook is haunted by a form field

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A little form field is giving Facebook a lot of trouble. We've talked in recent weeks about the new "
 
October 31 · Issue #238 · View online
The Interface
A little form field is giving Facebook a lot of trouble.
We’ve talked in recent weeks about the new “dark money” on Facebook. Earlier this year, the company began to require advertisers to verify their identities, a task they accomplish by typing in a code that they receive via a mailed postcard.
The trouble is that when advertisers post their ads, Facebook does not require them to post their verified identity. Instead, they can type whatever they want into a free-form field. And when people can lie on Facebook, they do.
Journalists have unearthed several instances of misrepresentation to date. There was the liberal group sneakily targeting conservatives with messages about universal health care. There was the anonymous person smearing a Democratic Congressional candidate in Virginia.
This week, journalists realized that they could use this hack to perform attention-getting stunts, and the unlikely genre of fake political ad Facebook trolling was born.
On Tuesday, Vice’s William Turton wrote that he posed as 100 senators in the “paid for” field, and had his ads approved anyway. That inspired Business Insider’s Shona Ghosh to buy political ads “paid for” by Facebook’s mortal enemy, the banned research company Cambridge Analytica. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I predict that Refinery29 will seek approval for an ad paid for by The Guys Responsible for The 50 Million-User Data Breach.
Facebook’s stance on this issue is that regulating political advertising is the job of the government, not the tech platform. I’m sympathetic to this view — I’d rather have one standard that applied to all advertisers, rather than a patchwork of inconsistent rules across platforms.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), a sponsor on the House version of the same bill voiced similar sentiments. “Paid political advertising should be subject to the same disclosure requirements regardless of what form it takes—the Honest Ads Act I introduced would assure such,” Coffman said to The Verge. “The American people deserve to know who’s paying for the ads they see on the Internet just as much as they do the ads they see on TV or hear on the radio.”
In the meantime, lying about who you are in Facebook’s “paid for” field, no matter how hilarious, is against the company’s rules and will get your ads banned. That said, it’s another case where Facebook has opted for maximum expression up front, with after-the-fact enforcement. And when the dust clears after next week’s midterm elections, the company may want to reconsider that decision.

Democracy
How Congress could rein in Google and Facebook
UK and Canada join forces to summon Mark Zuckerberg for questioning
Inside the Trump administration’s rudderless fight to counter election propaganda
Elsewhere
The Business of Internet Outrage
Facebook bans Proud Boys accounts, groups after New York assault
How Facebook Failed To Build A Better Alexa (Or Siri)
Facebook introduces Workplace domain to calm enterprise security fears
Teens use group Messenger chats very differently than adults
From Silicon Valley elite to social media hate: The radicalization that led to Gab
Gab's CEO Says Pittsburgh Suspect Doesn't Represent The Site. But He Spent Years Recruiting Racists Like Him.
Where Trolls Reigned Free: A New History of Reddit
Launches
Twitter tests homescreen button to easily switch to reverse chronological
After canceling ‘Rift 2’ overhaul, Oculus plans a modest update to flagship VR headset
Seven scary stories to tell by the light of your screen
Takes
Facebook’s Stories Story ($)
Thank you
To the individual who, responding to a request for Halloween costume photos, yesterday, sent me a picture of her son dressed as a hacked SuperMicro chip from the controversial Bloomberg story. Today’s newsletter is dedicated to your family.
And finally ...
I'm Obsessed With These Ugly Mansions On Zillow
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and more Halloween costume photos, if you have any: casey@theverge.com.
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