In response to privacy concerns surrounding targeting of individuals, on Facebook has been working overboard to roll out new features and guidelines to protect the privacy of users. That is with everything besides political content, where they have taken the exact opposite approach.
To post political ads going forward, users will be required to go through a stringent verification process that can take weeks to get approved. With that verification process, a user will need to provide a form of identification, and will need to confirm their address through a code that will be mailed to them.
Facebook claims that these changes in their rules are about “[providing] people with more information about who’s behind the ads they’re seeing.” This makes it sound as though Facebook won’t just use that information to verify that people posting political ads are actual U.S. citizens, but it will use that information to let everyone know who posted the ad.
These aren’t just political campaigns, and issue advocacy organizations they are talking about as well. The definition of “political ad,” makes it appear that they are targeting anything that has to do with a national legislative issue, or is “otherwise regulated as political or election-related advertising.”
A “political ad” is defined as an ad that:
Is made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office, a political party, or a political action committee;
Advocates for the outcome of an election to public office or relates to the voting in an election for public office;
Relates to any national legislative issue of public importance in the place where the ad is being run; or
Is otherwise regulated as political or election-related advertising
So a group of concerned citizens attempting to rally in support, or in opposition to a political measure will be forced to endure the same restrictions as a U.S. Senate campaign. They will also be forced to identify themselves to the world if they want to speak out and put a little bit of money behind their speech.
These new changes put a damper on the right of anonymous political speech, which has been long upheld by the Supreme Court. If a citizen is concerned about an issue, they shouldn’t be forced to give up their privacy to practice that speech, even when they decide to throw some of their own money to spread their speech further.
Facebook is a private company, so they are allowed to put these requirements in place. But if Facebook is to become a “public utility,” as many are speculating they will, they should uphold the laws as written, and not make up their own rules.