The Political Ads Facebook Won't Show You

Facebook has made promises to show the public all of the US political ads on its platform and to include a label saying who paid for each ad. These include ads on “issues, elections and politics.” To do this, Facebook uses a combination of of machine-learning models and voluntary compliance, and collects these ads in the Facebook Ad Library.

The problem is, Facebook routinely misses ads that meet its own criteria for inclusion. That means those political ads don't include a "Paid for by" label and don't appear in Facebook's transparency tools.

The Ad Observer project project lets participants share with us the ads they see. We use a machine-learning model to mimic Facebook's definition of what is a political ad and detect the ads that Facebook missed — and show some of those to you here.

Unlike television and other traditional forms of political advertising, online ads remain a murky area for U.S. disclosure regulations and enforcement. Cybersecurity for Democracy researcher Laura Edelson, along with other researchers, have proposed a standard for universal ad transparency across platforms, so the public can better understand who is trying to influence us, and how.

Want to know more? Read our explanatory post on Medium.