The same day Facebook handed over to Congress ads allegedly purchased by Russian operatives meant to influence the 2016 election, the company also said that it is planning to hire 1,000 new staffers to monitor ads purchased on the social network.
The content of the ads, as reported by multiple outlets, sought to sow divisions in the U.S. in advance of the presidential election last fall with memes on controversial topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBT rights, the “war” on Christmas, and the Second Amendment. “The ads and accounts we found appeared to amplify divisive political issues across the political spectrum,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook vice president of United States public policy, told the New York Times.
When Facebook first disclosed on Sept. 7 that it had found the Russian-purchased ads, the company totaled their spending at around $100,000 for roughly 3,000 ads. The company initially told VICE News that it wasn’t going to disclose the ads, but two weeks later announced that it would be handing the ads over to Congress.
“We constantly update our systems and monitor for malicious activity – and we have been forthcoming in what we’ve found,” a Facebook representative said in a Monday statement. “We continue to believe congressional investigators are best placed to review the ads and make any determination based on their access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part.”
Reviewing ads for false or offensive content is standard practice among TV stations and newspapers, but it represents a bigger challenge for online services like Facebook and Google which have many thousands of advertisers using self-serve tools around the globe. Facebook said the new people monitoring ads will be hired “in the next few years” but declined to say how many people already do this kind of work at Facebook, and instead pointed VICE News toward a May announcement of Facebook’s plans to hire 3,000 people (for a total of 7,500) to monitor non-advertising “organic content.”
Facebook has been scurrying to introduce changes to its advertising platform as congressional scrutiny of it has increased in the wake of the 2016 election.
Congressional Democrats are readying a bill to make the Federal Election Commission more strictly regulate political advertising on digital platforms, as neither Facebook or the government are monitoring such transactions presently.
“The Federal Election Commission… has failed to take sufficient action to address online political advertisements and our current laws do not adequately address online political advertisements on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter,” Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner wrote in a letter to colleagues.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a recent Facebook Live broadcast that the company plans to make political ad buys more transparent, in order to “make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy.”