Digital Rights Groups Call On Facebook for Transparency Over Political Ads

Ahead of the 2019 EP elections, a group of key digital rights organisations have sent an open letter to Facebook calling on the company to live up to their promise to provide more transparency around political advertising.

While Facebook has made promises to increase safeguards against the spread of misinformation, their recent moves to block campaigners’ access to existing transparency tools tells a different story. Over the coming months, the Mozilla Foundation will be driving a public advocacy campaign to push Facebook and other social media platforms to protect their users against misinformation.

To kick-off the campaign on 11 February, Mozilla, Access Now, Reporters Without Borders, Liberties and 24 other organisations sent open letter to Facebook. Read the full letter here.

The open letter calls on Facebook to make good on their promise to provide more transparency around political advertising ahead of the 2019 EU Parliamentary Elections.

Will Facebook keep its promise?

Last year Facebook promised European lawmakers and users it would increase the transparency of political advertising on the platform to prevent abuse during upcoming elections. But in the very same breath, they took measures to block access to transparency tools that let users see how they are being targeted. More precisely, ProPublica, Mozilla and Who Targets Me all noticed during January 2019 that their tools stopped working after Facebook inserted code in its website that blocks them.

The letter states: “We are writing you today as a group of technologists, human rights defenders, academics, journalists and Facebook users who are deeply concerned about the validity of Facebook’s promises to protect European users from targeted disinformation campaigns during the European Parliamentary elections. Promises and press statements aren’t enough; instead, we’ll be watching for real action over the coming months and will be exploring ways to hold Facebook accountable if that action isn’t sufficient.”

People have the right to know

Our open letter urges Facebook to:

  • Roll out a functional, open Ad Archive API that enables advanced research and development of tools that analyse political ads served to Facebook users in the EU
  • Ensure that all political advertisements are clearly distinguished from other content and are accompanied by key targeting criteria, such as sponsor identity and amount spent on the platform in all EU countries
  • Cease all harassment of good-faith researchers who are building tools to provide greater transparency into the advertising on the platform

We at Liberties share the concerns listed in the open letter. Disinformation spreads like wildfire on social media. Facebook must be part of the solution. Users and voters across the EU have the right to know who is paying to promote the political ads they encounter online, if they are being targeted, and why they are being targeted.