Fight fire with fire?
To try and mitigate public perception about its Russian advertising scandal, Facebook appears to have bought advertisements from other platforms also embroiled in the same mess.
In September, The Washington Post broke the story that a Russian "troll farm" connected to the Kremlin purchased $100,000 in Facebook advertisements designed to heighten social tensions and sow political unrest during the 2016 US presidential election (the ads have yet to be made public). Predictably, the social network had a shit storm on its hands.
To combat the situation, Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed himself on September 21 assuring Facebook's two billion monthly active users that it would ramp up efforts to fight election meddling from abroad. He also vowed to hire 1,000 more ad reviewers. The social network subsequently handed over the estimated 3,000 Russian-related ads to Congress, as did other platforms, including Google and Twitter, who also discovered evidence of Russian misinformation on their sites.
Now it appears Facebook is trying to fight fire with fire. When you have an online advertising problem, why not buy some online advertisements to try and mitigate it? When I Google searched "Facebook Russian ads" on Tuesday, the first result was a paid link to Facebook, with the title "We Take Trust Seriously - Within The Facebook Community."
A colleague in the VICE office tried the same search both normally and while in Incognito mode, and received the same result. A small green bubble below the link indicated that it was an advertisement. The ad links to a page outlining Facebook's new efforts to combat what it describes as "election interference."
It's worth noting that news broke on Monday that Google too had discovered evidence of Russian meddling on its platform. Accounts connected to the Russian government purchased $4,700 worth of search and display ads, according to The New York Times.
This also isn't the first time Facebook, an advertising behemoth, has tried to buy some ads itself to sway public opinion. Last week, it bought full-page ads in both The New York Times and The Washington Post defending itself against the Russian interference scandal. The ads resembled the Google Search ad I came across.
While it's pretty ironic that Facebook is buying ads to combat an advertising-related scandal, they communicate something serious about how the company's executives are feeling right now. Zuckerberg once dismissed the role his platform played in the 2016 presidential election. Now, he's clearly worried that Facebook could be perceived as undermining democracy.
If he wanted to do something to actually change how people feel about his platform, I would recommend cooling it on buying ads.
Instead, in an act of radical transparency, he should release the Russian-related ads that were turned over to Congress. After all, Senate intelligence committee Chair Richard Burr says he is free to do so.
I asked Facebook last week if it would. I still haven't received a reply.