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Facebook is now labeling political ads to try and prevent another Russian situation

Political advertisers will also need to register with Facebook by “confirming their identity and location.”

A woman walks past a Facebook sign Sean Gallup / Getty

Facebook on Thursday will start labeling political and issue ads on the social network — a move intended to keep foreign governments from buying ads that might influence U.S. voters.

Fulfilling a promise it made last year, Facebook is rolling out a new election ad dashboard, which will allow users to see who paid for a political ad and demographic info for people who saw it. Political advertisers will also need to register with Facebook by “confirming their identity and location” with the company.

The changes are meant to prevent another situation like the one Facebook faced during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in which a troll army with ties to the Kremlin created fake posts and bought ads in an effort to sow discord. Russia’s disinformation campaign reached as many as 146 million people across Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook is now labeling political ads.

Facebook didn’t verify political advertisers during that election cycle, which allowed anonymous troll accounts to buy ads intended to divide voters by promoting or condemning sensitive political issues, such as gun control. Facebook hopes that verifying advertisers and giving users a chance to see who paid for what ad will keep that from happening again.

The major issue still facing the company, though, is how it will identify issue ads that don’t necessarily endorse a specific candidate but that touch on a wide range of political themes, such as civil rights, immigration, the environment and the military. A lot of the ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm, were ads focused on divisive issues, not specific candidates.

Facebook is aware of the challenge. “Deciding what is or is not a political issue is inherently controversial, and not everyone will agree with our approach,” the company wrote in a blog post.

To figure out what issues to look for, Facebook worked with an outside organization called the Comparative Agendas Project. The organization measures “trends in policy-making” globally; it helped Facebook come up with a list of 20 issues to monitor for, including topics like abortion, guns, taxes and civil rights.

Facebook says it will then “check both the images and text in an ad, and who is being targeted” to determine if it should be defined as a political ad.

“We won’t always get it right,” Facebook wrote in a blog post. “We know we’ll miss some ads and in other cases we’ll identify some we shouldn’t. We’ll keep working on the process and improve as we go.”

Users who come across a political ad that hasn’t been labeled can report it to Facebook, which will review the ads with humans and algorithms, said Rob Leathern, director of product for Facebook’s ads team. Advertisers that fail to register with Facebook and get caught running a political ad will be restricted from running more political ads until they do register with the company.

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