Digital Disaster

The failures of Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s political ad transparency policies

In “Digital Disaster,” Issue One reveals how piecemeal, voluntary approaches by the largest social media platforms to stop digital disinformation campaigns fall far short of what is necessary to protect our political system from foreign interference. 

To summarize: The companies’ political ad transparency policies are a mess, and they do not measure up to the existing standards governing political ads on television and radio. The databases of political ads that they’ve created to help the public monitor digital ad spending in U.S. elections are also deeply flawed. 

For this analysis, Issue One pored over data related to thousands of political advertisers on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. We found that each technology company defines and enforces political ad “transparency” differently. Rules also vary about who can buy political ads, how ad sponsors are identified, and how ads are categorized as “political.” (A “Case Studies” section of the report provides more details and specific examples.)

The American people deserve information about online political ads and their sponsors that is uniform, reliable, and accessible. The report outlines solutions, like the bipartisan, bicameral Honest Ads Act, to do just that.

Watch our training with the Center for Responsive Politics on the paid political advertising policies and digital ad databases of the major online platforms: