I’m excited about 2020. I’m running for governor and to help bolster my candidacy, I’m running fake ads on Facebook.
My experience as a declared candidate for the highest office in my state is demonstrating that Facebook gets away with using a different set of rules than the rest of the web, and that should alarm digital consultants, groups, and candidates.
This all started during a recent hearing on Facebook’s proposed “Libra” currency, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s ad policy, producing cringe-worthy responses.
After Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning, my PAC, The Really Online Lefty League, cut a Green New Deal 90-second spot, with clips of Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon praising conservation, then a parody clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) praising the Green New Deal, which, of course, never happened.
Our ad went viral after we advertised it to a small audience on Facebook, then was taken down in an automated fact-checking process. (Flagged ads can be corrected and appealed—and Facebook pages that repeatedly publish fake content may be penalized.) We learned from Facebook’s third-party fact checkers that we couldn’t rerun a false ad, that PACs aren’t eligible to run them (only politicians), and that only an active politician would be exempt from fact-checking.
So I filed to run for governor of California to continue calling attention to the problem of fake ads on Facebook, including deceitful marketing that leads to fundraising phone calls, emails, and texts to vulnerable populations.
Our ad was a simple photoshop and audio splice job. The entire ad took about half a day to produce. Current technology, however, makes the threat of false political ads even greater. “Deep fake” software for both audio and video may help editors create moving images and convincing speech of real or false people saying whatever they want. Another technology generates hyperreal images of people who never existed, for use in social media profiles.
Our challenge to Facebook’s policies and false political ads highlights a longstanding problem for the company, and one for which they have rolled out a robust and vast fact-checking policy.
One of the independent, fact-checking companies contracted by Facebook, Lead Stories, in response to global pushback against the exemption for politicians, is proposing a two-tier fact-checking program that would include a “nonpartisan” review panel for those political ads.
Facebook faces a real challenge in policing content on its platform, and its processes are subject to both complex internal rulemaking and to dissent, like last week’s letter from 250 Facebook employees who called on the company to reduce targeting options for political ads.
What does all of this mean for you, the consultant looking to use the power of micro-targeting to responsibly message thousands, tens of thousands, or millions of voters on Facebook?
1. Document sources for claims in your ads—including sources of all video or audio clips and background documentation.
2. Avoid reuse, whether in posts or in ads, of dubious content. Pages that re-share false content may be penalized with reduced distribution. Presently, false information may spread throughout the platform before a fact-check—then a flag may appear everywhere it has been shared. Guard against dubious sources with a browser plugin like NewsGuard, which rates the quality of news links and flags parody content and content sources that fail to meet established journalistic standards.
3. Learn how to spot “deep fake” audio and video content and keep on hand a briefing sheet for reporters and one for supporters so you can respond quickly if your clients are attacked with this kind of false content.
4. Teach your campaign teams how to report dubious content using the tools that appear under the ellipsis at the top right of any Facebook post.
5. Enhance your sources for monitoring changes in Facebook policy and in technologies and tactics used by fake news creators. The C&E CampaignTech, Popular Information, and ACRONYM FWIW newsletters are three I always find helpful.
6. Use favorable fact checks to fight back against disinformation by your opponents. If their claims are flagged as false, make sure you reach voters with that information. And if your claims get fact-checked as true, use that to build your credibility with voters.
Adriel Hampton is a digital strategist, treasurer of The Really Online Lefty League PAC, and a gubernatorial candidate in California.