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Ad Transparency: Where Facebook Failed, Linear TV Can Lead

October 24th, 2017   ||    by Callie Wheeler

Political ad transparency on Facebook will improve, according to the social network’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The network is overhauling its handling of political ads after facing increasing criticism, MediaPost reports. Buyers will now be required to make ads available for public review.

This recent change brings digital political advertisements one step closer to those on linear TV, but is it enough? Should we consider improvement in advertising transparency across all channels?

How Did We Get Here?

Google and Facebook have been fighting to keep ad transparency at bay for years, arguing that online media shouldn’t be subject to the same standards as television and print.

A 2017 Slate article explains how two Federal Election Commission (FEC) decisions, one in 2010 and another in 2011, allowed the companies to run ads without visible disclaimers about where those ads originated. While Google ads included a link to a landing page with a disclosure, Facebook wasn’t subject to any penalties for omitting such a link—so it went ahead without them.

It has been nearly impossible to determine the source of Facebook ads, as revealed by recent news that Russia was linked to many of the 2016 presidential election ads on the social media platform, according to The New York Times.

As The Verge points out, Facebook’s announcement shouldn’t be surprising, as the company’s self-imposed regulation will likely be more manageable than any imposed by the FEC.

Good Thing We Still Have Linear TV

Linear TV and print are subject to greater regulation, requiring them to disclose who’s sponsoring an ad, both visually and audibly. Transparency is an issue that often plagues digital media in one form or another, and as the latest news from Facebook shows, digital frequently finds an answer to those woes by looking to its more traditional counterparts.

Even though traditional media shares more, the information disclosed isn’t always straightforward. With vague names and unclear associations, consumers can’t easily trace ad money to its source—especially when the ad is associated with a super political action committee (PAC). By embracing ad transparency that extends beyond political ads to all advertisements, television can further serve its viewers and get ahead of the curve.

As the same MediaPost article emphasizes, addressable TV will present challenges akin to those created by targeted social media ads: Consumers will want to know who’s targeting them, what messages they’re sharing and who’s ultimately paying for the ad inventory.

It’s time for television to start considering how to be a leader in transparency, even as its landscape changes.

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