Both Facebook and Twitter have revealed in the last month that they will be attempting to stamp out unethical political advertising on their platforms with better ad transparency.
Good, right? Yup, very good. Accountability for bodies quietly spending millions on spreading potentially questionable information? BRILLIANT.
But a little bit tricky for brands just trying to advertise their products.
What Facebook and Twitter are doing
While both platforms are ostensibly coming down hard on those who use advertising to influence elections, on Facebook’s part, the ad transparency feature has definite side-effects for non-political advertisers.
Twitter appears to be mainly focusing on specific political or ‘issue-based’ ads, allowing users to find out how much an advertiser has spent on a campaign, who’s funding it and which demographics they’ve targeted. Users will also be able to see all ads targeted at them – but it’s unclear whether this includes non-political advertising.
Facebook, however, will allow any user to see ALL the ads from any page they visit. This feature is being tested in Canada initially, then in America. The feature will group a page’s ads into a tab called ‘View Ads’ – so it’s bye-bye to “It’s OK, only our followers will see this” thinking.
The good: ad transparency for consumers
More and more, consumers are aware of the ways in which they’re manipulated by advertising. Unfortunately, that means advertisers just get more ruthless and dark with their approach. Facebook is, publicly at least, doing its bit to cut down on the unseen manipulation.
On a smaller scale, it’s good for consumers to be able to see the different ways a brand twists its messages according to who it’s targeting. If you’ve never worked in advertising, it would just never cross your mind how machiavellian ad targeting is.
Twitter’s acknowledgement of ‘dark advertising’ – the ads you’d never know exist unless they’re targeted at you – is a good step towards brands or bodies being accountable for what they publish.
The bad: slight annoyance for brands
But really only slight, as long as you haven’t based your entire Facebook advertising strategy on tricking people, for example: changing a product’s features based on different demographics.
The annoyance is that you won’t be able to ensure ONLY one segment sees a certain message: every Facebook ad you publish, to any audience and in any format (news feed ad, messenger ad, Instagram ad) will be public.
But hey, honesty is the best policy! For many brands, it will just be a very boring read if anyone clicks View Ads on our page; lots of us publish essentially the same ad several times, just with a few words changed. It doesn’t LOOK great but it won’t harm us.
Most consumers probably won’t use this feature (or even find it, considering Facebook’s bloated user experience) but it’s a good way of making sure we social advertisers are staying honest, and a valuable reminder that there is no ‘private’ on social media. Anyone can screenshot an ad or direct message. We should act like someone’s watching at all times – because they are.
The ugly: unethical politics
Facebook’s main reason for this new ad transparency feature (it claims) is to encourage political integrity on its platform, around the world. You probably heard people muttering about Russia using Facebook ads to influence 2016’s US elections – true or not, Facebook’s not into it.
If the plans go ahead, any page running political ads on Facebook will have to publicly disclose its identity, location and purpose. If the ad is related to an election, that’s got to be clear.
The ads will also include a ‘Paid for by’ disclaimer that a user can click on for more information. Facebook’s hidden brain will scan the platform for political advertisers not abiding by the rules. If Facebook can expose the dark underbelly of political campaign spending, sweet deal.
Just remember: it’s exposing you too. Make sure what’s uncovered is good.