Facebook’s Russian ads disclosure is putting the company under intense new scrutiny

BuzzFeed reports: Facebook is facing a new push to reveal how its vast power is being used after it disclosed that roughly $100,000 worth of political ads were purchased on its platform by fake accounts and pages connected to a Russian troll operation. Open government advocates and researchers who study political ads told BuzzFeed News that Facebook’s massive reach and lack of transparency about ads on its platform represent a risk to the democratic process.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency, said highly targeted online ads can be “weaponized against liberal democracies” because they do not meet the same levels of disclosure and visibility as traditional radio, TV, and print ads.

“It removes our ability to have transparency into who is trying to influence our politics, and any accountability for that influence,” Howard said. “And it takes away from the capacity of the traditional organs of democracy — that being the press and regulators and other institutions — to figure out who is behind political messaging, particularly at crucial times.”

Facebook and other tech giants have largely steered clear of major regulation in the United States despite their huge role in society. But concerns about the manipulation of political advertising by foreign entities and other parties is likely to increase government and regulatory scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

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