Facebook was summoned to Capitol Hill this week to spar with U.S. lawmakers over the ongoing Russian propaganda controversy. Many senators and representatives asked tough questions about the company’s actions (or lack thereof) during the 2016 presidential election, and several — including Senator Mark Warner —have grown frustrated by the site’s obfuscation. That led Warner and Senator Amy Klobuchar to create a fake political Facebook page with a phony ad campaign to prove just how easy it is to get around Facebook’s ad rules.
The two senators created a Facebook page for a nonexistent organization called “Americans for Disclosure Solutions.” They then bought $40 in ads for the page to target journalists and Hill staffers. The results were staggering — according to Warner’s office, the ads reached 1,369 staffers and 1,407 journalists.
“There are no existing policies in place to prevent running nefarious ads on Facebook,” Sen. Warner said. “Despite registering ADS on Facebook as a ‘Political Organization,’ we were able to run an ad campaign without providing basic information necessary to ensure compliance with federal, state or local election laws, such as campaign contact information, candidate ID, etc.”
While the number of people an ad “reaches” on Facebook is different than the number of people who see it, the point of this test is still a sharp one. It was so easy for the senators to create a fake, they only spent $40, and there was no process to verify who they were. It’s no wonder then that the platform has been infiltrated by bad actors.