One way Twitter’s ad archive improves on Facebook’s

As the midterms approach, a central question has been how campaigns would adapt to the fact their digital ads were now public. Thanks to online archives established this year by Facebook, Google, Twitter, we now have unprecedented visibility into campaigns. But as I’ve noted here a couple times now, advertisers are working hard to make themselves less visible. The tug-of-war between transparency and obscurity is turning out to be one of the defining stories of this election.

ProPublica identified a dozen ad campaigns from industry lobbying groups that obscured their true backers.

The 12 ad campaigns, for which Facebook received a total of more than $800,000, expose a significant gap in enforcement of its new disclosure policy, and they cast doubt on Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s assurance to the U.S. Senate in September that “you can see who paid for” ads. Adopted this past May in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook’s rules are designed to hinder foreign meddling in elections by verifying that individuals who run ads on its platform have a U.S. mailing address, governmental ID and a Social Security number. But, once this requirement has been met, Facebook doesn’t check whether the advertiser identified in the “paid for by” disclosure has any legal status, enabling U.S. businesses to promote their political agendas secretly.

Facebook told reporter Jeremy B. Merrill that it didn’t have the resources to evaluate every submitted advertiser name to evaluate its authenticity.

Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, said Facebook doesn’t try to verify the provenance of every political ad. The lack of a “reliable source to look and see every possible entity name that would be valid, including ‘doing business as’ names,” would make it a herculean task, he said. “We have to rely on the things that we can scalably look at.” Facebook primarily monitors disclaimers for profanity, names of hate groups and “vague or inaccurate” descriptions, as well as URLs (banned because they’re not official names), he said.

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