The intense scrutiny Facebook added on people posting political ads


Facebook, in principle, has a very solid premise. An online social graph where every individual is a real person and has the same social norms and consequences as in the real world is a social graph that is good at regulating itself. But they added in non-people into this graph to generate revenue and ended up with a highly profitable business model where a highly engaged audience of all humans on earth can be targeted and reached by a business.

All this is fine if the only evil is businesses trying to get you to buy things. But this got totally upended when a “business” is a foreign government and what they are trying to “sell” is just chaos, polarization, divisiveness, voter self suppression etc. So Facebook finds itself in this very unfortunate position where the tool they have built for a different purpose is getting weaponized in a way that is beginning to destroy the world.

I was doing an experiment and was very happy to discover what they are doing now to address this problem. I am very critical of Facebook but I also want to give them credit where credit is due. And here I am very pleased by the effort and the sincerity behind it!

The ad I was trying to post is this:

Turns out I can not just go and post a political ad. It is reviewed by a human and then gets flagged in the following way.

When I opt in to confirm my ID, it gets into quite an onerous process.

I have to upload my drivers license / passport, answer a bunch of ssn-related identity questions, then FB scrubs my timeline to verify that I indeed seem to be living in the US based on my entire history of posts and social graph, and then still it wants me to share a physical address where they will send a letter with a code to confirm I have physical access to that address. Then and only then can I make a politic ad!

This step brings some of the strengths of the original social graph. When identity is tied to a constraint, like in this case real physical people, then the social norms can be a powerful way to self-moderate. Of course there’s always a flip side to this and we do lose anonymity which is freedom. These two things will always be in tension it seems.