Social media may need to have ads regulated

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Facebook has to do better.

Though everyone’s favorite social media outlet claimed that fake news on the network had no effect on last year’s elections, it is clear that it wasn’t due to a lack of effort.

At least 3,000 ads on the site were placed by a Russian agency in an attempt to influence the election, multiple media outlets reported.

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“For months, (CEO Mark) Zuckerberg claimed that security experts at Facebook had found no evidence of Russians involved in fake news. Then, last week Facebook said it would turn over the content of ads to Congress it said had been placed by a Russian agency,” NPR reported.

This is not about who won the election or whether Trump’s campaign had any idea what was happening. This is simply about a foreign power using Facebook to try to undermine an American election.

“The problem appears to have been that Facebook’s spam- and fraud-tuned machine-learning systems could not see any differences between the ‘legitimate’ speech of Americans discussing the election and the work of Russian operatives,” The Atlantic reported.

Some of those shadowy Russian buyers bought ads that criticized Hillary Clinton, while others backed Bernie Sanders. It was not simply a pro-Trump effort, but rather an effort to create divisions, Politico reported.

People too often trust what they see on Facebook as accurate, regardless of the source. Or, as is often the case, they trust a headline they read without actually reading further.

Russia, and other countries, will no doubt use the social network in an attempt to influence future elections, and their social media savvy will only improve over time. Facebook will have to improve its services to counter this.

Maybe more regulation is needed, especially when it comes to political advertising. Facebook has pledged to be more transparent about political ads, possibly in an effort to avoid regulations that lawmakers are considering.

Other media (newspapers included) have long been regulated when it comes to political advertising. Political ads in other media must include disclaimers that include who paid for the ad.

Maybe something similar is needed for social network advertisements, including those placed on Facebook.