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Let the Light Shine In

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Online advertising is more influential than ever, affecting everything from what we buy to what we read to whom we vote for. It’s become harder and harder to determine who is behind the advertising you’re seeing.  But Facebook may have just started to change all that.

Platforms are starting to look at ways to give users the full picture. We think regulators such as the Federal Elections Commission should be too. In the meantime, groups like WhoTargets.Me and ProPublica’s new, similar initiative, have been using crowdsourcing to better publicize who is being shown what ads, and, hopefully, on whose dime.

And when Facebook announced on September 21 that they’d be sharply increasing transparency in their advertising model, it may have just opened the floodgates. As Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post:

We’re going to make political advertising more transparent. When someone buys political ads on TV or other media, they’re required by law to disclose who paid for them. But you still don’t know if you’re seeing the same messages as everyone else. So we’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency. Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook.

We often tell clients that authenticity is key–whether it’s articulating your values, defining your digital voice, or driving advertising: being upfront and honest with your audience is critical, since they will turn on you if you aren’t.

That need for greater transparency is not a knock at the overwhelming majority of advertisers. Most brands, campaigns and organizations don’t want the risk of being surreptitious, and many wouldn’t want to be shady even if they could get away with it. With few current consequences for bad behavior, though, questionable practices have remained. We’ll see if Facebook’s new announcement starts to change the tide.

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