Facebook's role in serving supposedly malicious Russian advertising leading up to the 2016 US Presidential Election has been called into question numerous times over the past few months, and Facebook has responded by putting out an FAQ of sorts that answers some basic questions about what happened, what Facebook did about it, and how it plans to prevent such behavior going forward. The social media giant talked about the specifics of how the ads in question got through its filtering, went over what parts of the ad attack constituted a policy violation and what parts didn't, and how things could have turned out differently.
According to Facebook's data, the Russian ads in question came from a single maliciously acting group who took advantage of Facebook's ad targeting features to try to get ads in the faces of Congresspeople and voters alike. Ads were mainly focused on divisive humanitarian, social, and political issues like LBGTQ+ rights, social justice, gun control, and racial issues. The ad campaigns had costs across the spectrum from the cheapest you can run to north of $1,000, though only one percent of ads shown were among the most expensive ones. About half of ads shown came from campaigns that spent less than $3. Less than half of the ads were actually seen before the election, and about 25 percent of the total ads identified as part of the scam were ever actually shown to anybody, thanks to the way that Facebook's ad relevance algorithms work.
Going forward, Facebook has promised to hire around 1,000 new people to personally help screen ads. Ad screening is mostly handled in an automated fashion at present, with most ads that end up in front of a live human for screening coming from user reports. With the new hires, more ads can be screened manually, making it easier to catch inconsistencies and other strange things that could be signs of something like what happened with the Russian ads. On top of that, Facebook plans to rework its targeting system to ensure that everybody can see all ads, even those that aren't targeted at them. This will make it more likely that malicious or otherwise violating advertisements will be caught, reported, and taken down before they can spread too far. The move comes after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for allowing Facebook to be used maliciously in the past and vowed to do better in the future.