Facebook Wants to Regain Your Trust

Dec 14, 2018 - John Paff

Facebook has received a lot of negative publicity since 2016. The world’s largest social network has been widely criticized for data breaches, unduly influencing elections, amplifying fake news, contributing to social polarization, and even inciting violence. Co-founder Mark Zuckerburg was summoned to testify before Congress — twice — capping what Wired had already labeled Facebook’s “two years of hell.”

Actions speak louder than words, and Facebook knew that significant changes would be needed to rebuild trust with its users.

This week, I discovered first-hand just how serious Facebook is about changing its advertising practices and cracking down on political front groups — like the Russians who organized opposing protests on the same Texas street corner in 2017.

My first personal experience with Facebook political advertising came earlier this year, when I threw my hat in the ring for a seat on my local Township Advisory Board. It was a five-way race for three available positions, and I was running against four experienced candidates. I made my case on a Facebook Page and promoted my message with a series of inexpensive, carefully targeted Facebook ads.

It nearly worked. I finished a close fourth in the primary, just short of the votes needed get my name on the November ballot.

But after the general election, an unexpected vacancy opened on the Township Advisory Board. Encouraged by the votes I’d received in the primary, I declared my candidacy for the caucus that would fill the seat, and once again I turned to Facebook to make my case.

But what a difference a few months made!

For the May primary election, I merely needed to prove that my name was on the ballot to be authorized to run ads on Facebook. Not so in November!

In between, Facebook had implemented new rules governing ads related to “politics or issues of national importance.” In order to make my candidate page eligible to run ads, I was required to:

  • Enable two-factor login authentication with my cell phone
  • Upload a copy of my drivers’ license or passport
  • Respond to a letter sent to my home address
  • Supply the last 4 digits of my Social Security Number

The new requirements gave me pause. I was not at all certain I wanted to provide this detailed, personal information to a platform that has been under intense scrutiny for its mishandling of user data.

But these are the new requirements for those wishing to run ads related to “politics or issues of national importance.” Facebook demands to know exactly who you are and where you are.

It’s tough action. And it’s the beginning of Facebook’s effort to rebuild trust.

Public relations efforts begin with action, not words.

When I teach PR principles to my university students, I emphasize Fraser Seitel’s maxim: “Performance must precede publicity.”

Facebook understands that in order to regain trust, it first had to change what it was doing.

You can’t just run an ad campaign,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s global marketing chief.

She’s right. And while Facebook’s new rules for political ads are inconvenient for me personally, it’s good to see the social-media giant taking bold action to rebuild trust.