With the November mid-term elections quickly approaching, Facebook is taking steps to combat election meddling with increased transparency and accountability measures for advertisers, especially those in the realms of politics and issue advocacy. On Friday, April 6th, Facebook announced in a news release authored by their Vice President of Ads and Vice President of Local and Pages a series of changes to the way in which ads are served and stored on the platform.

So, what exactly are these changes? There are four key shifts to keep an eye out for in the coming months.

  1. Account Verification. In the execution of a change announced last October, advertisers will now need to be verified to run specific ad types including electoral ads and what Facebook is calling “issue” ads, or ads that relate to political topics currently debated online. The identity and location verification process will include a code that Facebook will physically mail to advertisers in order to check addresses.
  2. Clear Labeling.  In users’ News Feeds, political ads will be now labeled as such, with a “Political Ad” label in the top left corner. This labeling will also include information on who is paying for the ad to run on the platform.
  3. Live Transparency.  In a new feature being rolled out in June, users will be able to see all ads a Page is currently running, even if the ad is not in your own News Feed. This change will apply to all Pages on the platform, whether a page falls into the political, retail, or publisher space.
  4. Historical Transparency.  Also to be rolled out in June, Facebook will launch a searchable, political ads archive containing all ad creative a Page runs beginning when the archive launches, with details including amount spent, and basic demographic audience information such as age or location. Ads will be included beginning in June, and remain in the archive for four years after they launch.

What does this mean?

With these changes on the horizon, all Pages, representing everything from political campaigns to non-profit organizations to private companies, will soon have their Facebook advertising strategies on public display. With this increased access will undoubtedly come increased scrutiny, as journalists sift through political Facebook ads that Pages are running.

It is important to note that the ads that a page runs on Facebook have never been strictly private — anyone who sees a Facebook ad in their News Feed can easily share it with others, and news stories on advertising content is not new. However, the ability to see the amount spent to promote specific content and its basic targeting will bring the strategies behind this content into public view in a way which is unprecedented.

A potential vulnerability…and a potential learning opportunity

This increased ability of journalists, the public, and your political opponents to review a Page’s ads strategy represents a potential vulnerability. Any negative or attack advertising campaign you’ve executed in the past will likely come to light, which could damage your image or, at the very least, result in unhelpful process stories in the media. You will, of course, also have the power to do the same to your opponents.

With the flexibility digital advertising targeting enables to serve specific content to specific audiences, it is both routine and recommended for organizations to tailor language and messaging to the specific group that is destined to see it. However, the ease with which users and journalists alike will now be able to sort through advertising creative will highlight discrepancies in messaging over time and across various audiences.

On the other hand, these changes will also provide an invaluable resource to campaigns and organizations seeking to understand and learn from the strategies of competing candidates or organizations. They will make possible a much broader understanding of the various messages a given audience is seeing online and the opportunity to create more effective, sensitive and better informed content.

What you should do right now

Moving forward, all Facebook advertisers should adhere to a strict message discipline in their campaigns. While it will remain both appropriate and advisable to deliver refined, targeted messages to targeted audiences, those different messages should all work together in support of the more public, central campaign message.