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One way Twitter's political ads improve on Facebook's

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Programming note: Have you ever been to a Monday wedding before? Me either! But The Interface will be
 
November 2 · Issue #240 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: Have you ever been to a Monday wedding before? Me either! But The Interface will be off Monday — the eve of the midterms, I know — and will arrive at an irregular time on Tuesday, when I am traveling to New York to take part in an election night party thrown by The Verge and Tech:NYC. In the meantime, please vote!
As the midterms approach, a central question has been how campaigns would adapt to the fact their digital ads were now public. Thanks to online archives established this year by Facebook, Google, Twitter, we now have unprecedented visibility into campaigns. But as I’ve noted here a couple times now, advertisers are working hard to make themselves less visible. The tug-of-war between transparency and obscurity is turning out to be one of the defining stories of this election.
ProPublica identified a dozen ad campaigns from industry lobbying groups that obscured their true backers.
The 12 ad campaigns, for which Facebook received a total of more than $800,000, expose a significant gap in enforcement of its new disclosure policy, and they cast doubt on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s assurance to the U.S. Senate in September that “you can see who paid for” ads. Adopted this past May in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook’s rules are designed to hinder foreign meddling in elections by verifying that individuals who run ads on its platform have a U.S. mailing address, governmental ID and a Social Security number. But, once this requirement has been met, Facebook doesn’t check whether the advertiser identified in the “paid for by” disclosure has any legal status, enabling U.S. businesses to promote their political agendas secretly.
Facebook told reporter Jeremy B. Merrill that it didn’t have the resources to evaluate every submitted advertiser name to evaluate its authenticity.
Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, said Facebook doesn’t try to verify the provenance of every political ad. The lack of a “reliable source to look and see every possible entity name that would be valid, including ‘doing business as’ names,” would make it a herculean task, he said. “We have to rely on the things that we can scalably look at.” Facebook primarily monitors disclaimers for profanity, names of hate groups and “vague or inaccurate” descriptions, as well as URLs (banned because they’re not official names), he said.
Notably, Twitter takes a different — and possibly more effective approach:
Twitter verifies advertisers’ names via their Employer Identification Numbers, making it harder for the actual sponsors to hide. For instance, ads from Energy In Depth carried a disclaimer on Twitter — but not on Facebook — that they were paid for by Independent Petroleum Association of America.
It’s something for Facebook to consider as its ad archive evolves over time.
The flip side of advertiser disclosures is that platforms are asking people to verify their identities in order to post plainly apolitical material. The Atlantic stress-tested the algorithms responsible for determining ads’ political content and found a bunch of mistakes:
Most of the ads that Facebook prohibited were for national parks or Veterans Day parades. One prohibited ad advertised a music album that shared a name with a candidate. Facebook prohibited 5 percent of our ads for Veterans Day gatherings. Facebook also prohibited 18 percent of national park ads linking to government websites. When we appealed some these decisions, Facebook’s reviewers reversed them, confirming our belief that they were initially mistakes.
Maybe these mistakes aren’t so surprising. Overall, Facebook prohibited 11 percent of our park and parade ads and 1 percent of product ads that included a candidate name, a difference of 10 percentage points. Political ads often mention imagery and values common to many Americans. Machine-learning models designed to detect these political ads could easily learn these features and systematically prohibit information and ideas central to nonpartisan American civic life. Whatever the reason, the company prohibited fewer product ads.
I understand it must be annoying to have to send Facebook a post card in order to buy an ad for an event at a national park. And yet also … I can’t really bring myself to care. A few false positives seem more than worth the trade-offs involved here.
In their conclusion, the Atlantic authors lay it on thick: “The greatest collateral damage from these protections could be the nonpartisan communities and conversations that divided societies most desperately need.” Facebook is not banning those nonpartisan communities, though. It’s asking them to mail in a postcard.
That, I think, democracy can survive.

Democracy
Midterm Election 2018: Tracking Campaign Ads From Health Care to Taxes and Jobs
Facebook Allowed Advertisers to Target Users Interested in “White Genocide” — Even in Wake of Pittsburgh Massacre
Private messages from 81,000 hacked Facebook accounts for sale
Google CEO Pichai Says He's Still the Boss Amid Employee Revolts
China is making the internet less free, and US tech companies are helping
How Apple News is covering the midterms.
Peter Thiel says Russian ads on Facebook didn't help Trump win election
Elsewhere
Twitter Listed A Trending Topic For "Kill All Jews" After A Brooklyn Synagogue Was Vandalized
Google's top Washington lobbyist is leaving role
Alt-Right and Alt-Social Media
Unfold launches a design agency for Instagram Stories
Launches
Snapchat will display polling locations in its Snap Map on Election Day
Tencent is launching its own version of Snap Spectacles
Facebook Gives Away AI Tools Used to Improve Video, Messenger
Takes
Political Reality: Buy Ads on Facebook or Risk Losing the Election
And finally ...
Nothing is more terrifying than this Slack spoof
Alex Novemberg
8:42 AM - 31 Oct 2018
May all your notifications be silent this weekend.
Talk to me
Send me your tips, comments, questions, and weekend plans: casey@theverge.com.
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