We posed as 100 Senators to run ads on Facebook. Facebook approved all of them.


One of Facebook’s major efforts to add transparency to political advertisements is a required “Paid for by” disclosure at the top of each ad supposedly telling users who is paying for political ads that show up in their news feeds.

But on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, a VICE News investigation found the “Paid for by” feature is easily manipulated and appears to allow anyone to lie about who is paying for a political ad, or to pose as someone paying for the ad.

To test it, VICE News applied to buy fake ads on behalf of all 100 sitting U.S. senators, including ads “Paid for by” by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Facebook’s approvals were bipartisan: All 100 sailed through the system, indicating that just about anyone can buy an ad identified as “Paid for by” by a major U.S. politician.

What’s more, all of these approvals were granted to be shared from pages for fake political groups such as “Cookies for Political Transparency” and “Ninja Turtles PAC.” VICE News did not buy any Facebook ads as part of the test; rather, we received approval to include “Paid for by” disclosures for potential ads.

Just all too predictable.   I’m not sure that Nick Clegg will have any effect on Facebook’s culture of lying.


This “can’t do it alone” line — which I hear all the time — is ridiculous. Media companies sold political ads for decades without running fraudulent and mislabeled ads. You only “can’t do it alone” if your business model is self-service, user-bought ads with minimal oversight.


In fact, if your business model forces you to outsource quality control to journalists and NGOs in order to avoid having your ad network weaponized by political operatives…maybe the issue is not disclaimers and labeling at all!

Then there’s this tweet:

Just three days after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Facebook was allowing advertisers to target users interested in white genocide — the same myth the alleged shooter believed in

a Facebook spokesperson told me that the “white genocide conspiracy theory” ad buy didn’t violate the company’s ad rules because it was a category the company itself had generated

Despite telling me that the white genocide ad buy didn’t violate Facebook’s ad policies, and despite having the ad buy approved by Facebook, we received this message [stating that the ads don’t comply] shortly after asking Facebook for comment

Bottom line is this Tweet:

The takeaway here isn’t that Facebook supports white genocide myths. It’s that Facebook built a self-service ad platform with minimal oversight for 2 billion people, and this is what happens when you do that.

Facebook’s current business model is that of a polluter who leaves others to bear the external costs.  If your business is only profitable if you skip moderation, you don’t have a proper business.  If you can afford moderation you must do it.