Facebook's Political Rule Uses Keywords to Block Ads for Bush's Beans

Facebook has come under fire lately for many reasons: privacy issues, political responsibility, and the dissemination of “fake news.”

In an effort to offset some of these issues, the social media platform launched a new initiative to increase transparency around who is paying to promote political ideas, according to Bloomberg. Under the new rule, advertisers are required to verify their identities through a time-consuming process or risk their ad being tagged and blocked for pushing a political narrative without attribution.

Facebook is using certain “political keywords” to tag and block ads determined to be politically driven. If these advertisers are not verified, they are blocked and moved to an archive of political ads.

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But the plan has somewhat backfired, tagging and blocking ads that have nothing to do with politics. An ad for Bush’s baked beans going on sale at Walmart was blocked for sharing a name with the 41st and 43rd presidents. In Clinton, Indiana, a vacation bible school was blocked from advertising a free lunch event for kids aged 3 to 12.

Each of these ads is moved to a searchable archive of political advertising, a page filled with dozens of ads from “various schools, towns, brands, and people that happen to share names with presidents,” reports Bloomberg. They are accompanied with the following notification from Facebook: “This ad ran without a ‘paid by’ label. After the ad started running, we determined that the ad had political content and required the label. The ad was taken down.’’

In order to become verified, sponsors have to send in personal information, including the last four digits of their social security number. Facebook then sends mail to their residential address, verifying that they live in the U.S. Once that mail is returned, the political advertiser can resume their business with Facebook.

Facebook says the rules for what should be archived are intentionally broad so as to place a check on any content that may possibly push a political agenda.

“We decided that our goal is transparency,’’ Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a briefing last week. “So we are just erring on the side of being more transparent.’’

For more about this story, visit Bloomberg.