a study highlights the failures of the political advertising detection system

Approximately 189,000 advertisements that were not declared as policies were not detected by the software.

Facebook’s tools for detecting political ads around the world are most often failing, according to a report by researchers at KU Leuven and New York University, released Thursday. The study is based on nearly 34 million advertisements broadcast in around 50 countries on the social network between July 2020 and February 2021, a period during which presidential elections were held in the United States and Brazil.

The researchers found that 83% of the 189,000 advertisements that were not declared as political by advertisers fell through the cracks (62%) or were wrongly labeled as political (21%). “Globally, Facebook has found it difficult to distinguish political ads from non-political ads.», Says Victor Le Pochat, researcher and doctoral student in the imec-DistriNet research group at KU Leuven. “Ultimately, this misleads users and advertisers on Facebook: it is impossible to determine if an advertisement is really political in nature, or if the advertisements are wrongly removed, because Facebook considers them to be political in nature.He adds.

Geographic disparities

Facebook filtering is most effective in the United States and New Zealand, where only 1% of undeclared political ads went unrecognized by the platform. The researchers note, however, that more than 70,000 political advertisements were broadcast on the social network despite the moratorium imposed by Facebook around the last US presidential campaign. France, where a presidential election will take place in April 2022, is 6th in this ranking with 27% of political ads that have passed between the drops.

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During the Brexit campaign or the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook came under heavy criticism for letting misleading or false information spread. The platform has since required advertisers to indicate their identity and location and to specify who finances advertising relating to a social, electoral or political issue. But these tools are imperfect, especially since they rely heavily on the honesty of advertisers.

The authors of the report made several recommendations to strengthen the enforcement of Facebook’s rules, including the imposition of penalties for violations and better cooperation with local authorities, organizations and regulators. “Facebook could take a few simple steps to improve detection of political ads, but has previously said it doesn’t have much of an appetite for it.», Affirms Mr. Le Pochat.

Asked by AFP, Facebook did not react immediately.

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