Are engagement numbers the problem when it comes to political ad transparency? Not really.

This is an interesting conclusion to come to - engagement is the information that the public have access to, because they're interacting with and reacting to posts. A quick piece of market research can be conducted by anyone with Business Facebook access merely by drafting political ads, which would reveal expected impressions and CPM figures.

Ad spend transparency is the right thing to do. Demographic targeting info would surely be next? But this is covered too - people mostly do have access as to why Facebook shows them ads - they can click on a question mark that says "Why am I seeing this ad?" which reveals the intention and the identity of the advertiser. Transparency from Facebook specifically I would argue is wholly sufficient in this area, but most people can't be bothered to read the details.

The stronger point from your piece is how such transparency 'rules' apply differently around the world - the rights of commercial businesses to publish these kinds of details aren't beholden to many administrations.

For Facebook or Twitter to start poking the bear, they would effectively be doing journalistic work - which I'm sure isn't something they're keen to do, and there are plenty of professional journalists out there who need to do the work.

That's not to say political transparency across social media is perfect, but I think any efforts by folks interested in this sort of thing need to place said effort into where the loopholes, smoke and mirrors exist in the infrastructure behind the actual funding which pays for the ads.

Rarely do researchers and commentators look at these because it's too risky. All too often, it's left to Governments themselves to conduct huge enquiries on themselves, or to some combined, transnational investigative journalism piece to actually go digging.

Instead, most researchers and commentaries will create endless content cycles that talk about misinformation, malinformation and disinformation, rather than addressing who funds these three spectres in the first place.

Until then, the navel-gazing around 'oh, how transparent is transparent?' is a fig leaf in and of itself and continues to not speak truth to power.

Writer, covering: linguistics, health, computing, philosophy, XR, marketing, privacy, narrative, media, ecology. Views ≠ employers or clients.

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