Meta, the owner of Facebook, has responded to calls for greater transparency in its ad targeting for political advertising.
The social media and advertising platform announced on Monday, May 23, that detailed targeting information for social issues, electoral or political ads will be made available to vetted academic researchers via the Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORM) environment. By the end of this month, the data will be available.
It comes in response to calls from academics and researchers for greater transparency about Facebook’s ability to target users based on their political and cultural affiliations. Its ability to do so has been questioned due to the potential for advertisers to use those tools to discriminate against or otherwise target vulnerable groups.
Meta announced in November of last year that it would be removing targeting options based on “health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, and sexual orientation.” It followed instances of those options being used in ways that the company did not intend – though technically not against the rules – by advertisers seeking to reach specific groups.
For example, in 2019, the company was accused of allowing advertisers to discriminate against people looking for housing by limiting who could see the ads based on race and religion.
Meta is now stating that, in addition to providing researchers with access to that data via FORM, it is also making its Ad Library tool publicly available.
Reopening Research Pathways
The Ad Library was first introduced in 2018; this expansion expands researchers’ ability to examine the impact of targeted advertising on Facebook. Following the 2021 Capital Riots, more attention has been paid to the unintended consequences of social platforms acting as a hub for disinformation and discrimination: while the social platforms state that they oppose those issues, critics note that many have been especially slow to act to curb potential harm when doing so would jeopardize their financial viability.
“By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections, and politics, we hope to help researchers,” King said in a statement accompanying the rollout of the new options.
“We are committed to providing meaningful transparency, while also protecting people’s privacy. In updating our tools, we solicited advice from external experts in the academic community and civil society on how to best achieve both of these important objectives, and we will continue to do so as we continue to evolve these tools.”
Greater transparency around both user data and the ability to target ads are high on the agendas of policymakers and academics. This latest rollout is unlikely to totally assuage any concerns about the ability of Meta and Facebook to mitigate the unintended consequences of its tools – but it does demonstrate that the platform is willing to allow access to data in an attempt to work with researchers.
It had previously shut down thousands of academic-related APIs and tools in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This will undoubtedly be regarded as a positive step.
This article is about the following topics: World, Facebook, Facebook Ads, Meta, Political Advertising, Ad Spend, Adtech, Brand Safety, Data & Privacy, Social Media, Modern Marketing, and Brand Safety.