Facebook’s vast power over our political discourse is coming under fresh scrutiny after the social media giant revealed this week that it accepted $150,000 worth of political ads from a Russian influence operation that it suspects has direct ties to the Kremlin.
Experts interviewed by BuzzFeed say that these revelations mean it’s long past time to consider putting stricter regulations on Facebook that would open more transparency about how it runs its business.
Sunlight Foundation Director Alex Howard tells BuzzFeed that Facebook’s lack of transparency is a major boon for nefarious organizations that want to undermine democratic elections.
“It removes our ability to have transparency into who is trying to influence our politics, and any accountability for that influence,” he 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.”
Ads shown on Facebook aren’t required to offer any disclosures the way that ads on television and the radio are. Howard and other transparency advocates think that should change, even though Facebook so far has been extremely reluctant to disclose details about its advertisers.
“If we’re going to say that the political ad files for television and and radio stations should be available online, I don’t see why we shouldn’t have that for the social networks too,” he said. “It is very clear that between Facebook and Google they have upwards of 80% of online ad share, and that brings with it great responsibility.”