For true transparency around political advertising, U.S. tech companies must collaborate

In October 2017 online giants announced plans to voluntarily increase transparency for political advertising on their platforms. The three plans to tackle disinformation had roughly the same structure: funder disclaimers on political ads, stricter verification measures to prevent foreign entities from posting such ads, and varying formats of ad archives.
All three announcements came just before representatives from the companies were due to testify before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election and reflected fears of forthcoming regulation, as well as concessions to consumer pressure.
Since then, the companies have continued to attempt to address the issue of digital deception occurring on their platforms.
recently released a white paper detailing how it would deal with online disinformation campaigns across many of its products. In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Facebook announced it would ban false information about voting. These efforts reflect an awareness that the public is concerned about the use of social media to manipulate their votes and is pushing for tech companies to actively address the issue.
These efforts at self-regulation are a step in the right direction — but they fall far short of providing the true transparency necessary to inform voters about who is trying to influence them. The lack of consistency in disclosure across platforms, indecision over issue ads, and inaction on wider digital deception issues including fake and automated accounts, harmful micro-targeting, and the exposure of user data are major defects of this self-governing model.
For example, individuals looking at Facebook’s ad transparency platform are currently able to see information about who viewed an ad that is not currently available on Google’s platform. However, on Google the same user can see top keywords for advertisements, or search political ads by district, which cannot be done on Facebook.
With this inconsistency in disclosure across platforms, users are not able to get a full picture of who is trying to influence them, which prevents them from being able to cast an informed vote.
For true transparency around political advertising, U.S. tech companies must collaborate
One hundred cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. Advocacy group Avaaz is calling attention to what the groups says are hundreds of millions of fake accounts still spreading disinformation on Facebook. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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