by Emma Bott
The crime or tort of publishing, broadcasting or otherwise publicly distributing an advertisement that contains an untrue, misleading or deceptive representation or statement which was made knowingly or recklessly and with the intent to promote the sale of property, goods, or services to the public. – The Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary
Facebook is one of the most commonly used places to get information. We get updates about our friends and their lives on Facebook; many people even get their news from it by following news outlets and reading the stories their friends share. Coupled with the multitude of companies advertising their products and services there, there is a lot to take in. Even businesses and politicians are beginning to use Facebook to advertise. Since it has become so popular as an advertising medium, the subject of false advertising has started to come up more and more frequently.
Following the US election’s focus on fake news, media attention quickly expanded to include reports of fake news and advertisements being featured on Facebook. The shady ads in question were brought to light when it was discovered that the social network had allowed 3,000 ads, equating to $100,000 in spending, that were owned by a Russian entity working to influence the American presidential elections, according to Variety. Critics are saying that this is becoming a recurring problem with Facebook and these recent events have some calling for more governmental regulation. According to Business Insider, even Mark Zuckerberg agrees. Presently, Facebook regulates itself. To combat these issues, the company has gone on a hiring spree. In May, Business Insider reports, Facebook hired 3,000 employees to remove videos showing inappropriate and violent acts. Additionally, users have been warned about purchasing based on some advertisements on Facebook. The Better Business Bureau has even given select advertisers an F rating (a zero-score in every rating category). This is unsurprising, considering that some companies will use photos of higher quality products taken from other sites to promote their own. Given that Facebook has made recent attempts to police what appears on newsfeeds, people are beginning to become more trusting again.
Furthering its strategy of putting more hands on deck to combat advertising issues, the company recently pledged to hire 1,000 new employees to specifically focus on shutting down false advertisements. It is unknown how big the current team is. In addition, Facebook released a new policy with the intention of providing more transparent and clear advertising for users. The tactic the company plans to use is allowing viewers to see all the advertisements that are featured on a page, not just the ones targeted at them. Another new policy–this one in response to the Russian issue–requires political advertisements to disclose who is funding them. Facebook is also funding more resources for identifying the techniques that are used to get around their policies and software that block advertisements are being updated. Facebook also plans to create a network with others in the social media industry to share information on the identities of- and techniques used by those guilty of false advertising. Facebook also took the time to explain that the reviewing of advertisements has staff looking at the content, context and the audience of the advertisement in question. Facebook has about 5,000 paying customers for advertisements, according to Reuters, all of which will now require greater documentation if they wish to continue running their ads.
The purpose of advertising law is to protect the consumer and promote truthful labeling. In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission regulates false advertising. The same standards apply to advertising whether it be print, radio, TV or social media. In Canada, the Competition Bureau says that not disclosing information is misrepresentation and therefore false advertising. False advertising can dramatically influence the actions of consumers and the consequences, both economically and politically (in the case of Russia and the US election), could be far reaching depending the size of the audience.
Facebook has taken it upon itself to lead the way for current and future policy development, both in the private sector and even on a governmental scale. Only time will tell if the company’s new policies and complementing hiring streak will have the effect it is hoping for.