Facebook to launch Ad Library transparency tool in Canada ahead of federal election

Facebook has announced it’s set to launch its ad transparency tool Ad Library in Canada ahead of the federal election.

As part of compliance requirements under Bill C-76 the Elections Modernization Act, Facebook says Ad Library will help ensure “that authenticity and transparency are at the core of paid election advertising on Facebook.”

Bill C-76, which passed in December, is set to come into force in June and will require online platforms to keep a registry of political and partisan ads they publish, directly or indirectly.

Ad Library, which Facebook first launched in the U.S. last May, in addition to Brazil and the UK, requires advertisers to confirm their identities before running political, election-related and issue ads, including those that refer to candidates. Facebook plans to roll out the tool globally this year.

Political ads to be labeled as “paid”

The Ad Library will store ads related to Canadian politics that will be viewable and searchable globally for up to seven years, regardless of whether or not you have a Facebook account.

Political ads that appear in News Feed will be labeled with a “Paid for by” disclaimer. Clicking on “Paid for by” will take the user to Ad Library, where information on the ad’s performance, like range of spend and impressions, will be shared.

Facebook says Ad Library builds on its Info and Ads transparency tool, which currently allows people to see all active ads running from a Page, whether or not you are the intended audience for the ad.

System vulnerabilities: critics

Digital watchdogs in other countries have complained Facebook’s measures have done little to contain hate speech and the visibility of extreme content, with Ad Library allowing for too many inaccuracies and accountability gaps.

Jonathan Albright of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, ran analysis leading up to the U.S. midterm elections in November, finding loopholes in the verification process, accounts managed outside the U.S., and system vulnerabilities to so-called “astroturfing” –  the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.

Google also launched a searchable Ad Library database in the U.S. last year, but will ban Canadian political advertising on its platforms ahead of the federal election, thus absolving itself of having to comply with incoming ad transparency rules. Based on 2016 estimates from the Canadian Media Concentration Project, Google accounts for 48 per cent of all internet advertising in Canada. Facebook is a distant second at 24 per cent.

Policy advisory group

Part of Facebook’s approach in Canada, includes striking an advisory group culled from across the political spectrum, to develop its policy for issue ads in Canada. The group includes:

  • Megan Leslie, CEO of WWF Canada, and former Deputy Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
  • Antonia Maioni, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, McGill University
  • Ry Moran, Executive Director, Truth and Reconciliation CentreUniversity of Manitoba
  • Ray Novak, Managing Director, Harper & Associates, and former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper
  • David Zussman, Adjunct Professor, School of Public AdministrationUniversity of Victoria, and former Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector ManagementUniversity of Ottawa

“Understanding the importance of Bill C-76 and what’s potentially at stake, we’re doing the hard and rigorous work to get our political ads transparency tools right for Canadians. We are approaching our efforts with a Canadian lens in building the Ad Library and other processes, while simultaneously applying learnings from similar efforts around the world,” said Kevin Chan, Head of Public Policy at Facebook Canada, in a press release. “We take the protection of elections on Facebook very seriously, and we are committed to being a force for good in Canadian democracy. This is why we devote significant time, energy and resources to these issues.”

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