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Facebook to verify major page owners

Dave Lee
North America technology reporter

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFacebook will start verifying the identities of people running popular pages on its platform

Facebook will verify the identity of people running popular pages, as part of its continued efforts to stem fake news and propaganda.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said all “large” pages would be audited - any which did not clear the process would be prevented from posting.

The move is designed to prevent users who run pages using fake accounts from hiding their true identity.

Mr Zuckerberg said he backed proposed political ads regulation.

It would require technology companies to collect more data on the source of those advertisements.

"Election interference is a problem that's bigger than any one platform," he wrote.

"And that's why we support the Honest Ads Act. This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online."

Also announced today, Facebook will add more transparency over the funding of "issue-based" political ads.

"These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system," Mr Zuckerberg said.

"But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads."

Russian manipulation

The firm will ask those placing political ads for a US government-issued ID and a physical mailing address. A unique code will be sent to the address - and will need to be inputted before the advertising is allowed to run.

The measures are to counter some of the tactics apparently used by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll farm” said to have manipulated Facebook in order to target American voters.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFacebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has endorsed calls for more legislation on political ads

One of the group’s most effective techniques was to set up pages that appeared to be run by passionate US-based campaigners. In some cases, these pages successfully encouraged people to take to the streets and engage in protests.

A spokeswoman told the BBC that Facebook had not finalised what would qualify as a large page, but that it would include other indicators as well as simply the number of followers a page has.

It will also make it clear if the page has changed its name. It is understood Russian trolls used innocuous titles to attract followers to a page, only to then switch the page into promoting a political view.

Facebook already verifies the identity of celebrities and other public figures, and the system for verifying page owners will likely work a similar way, the spokeswoman said.

Crunch hearings

The changes have been announced ahead of a critical week for Facebook. On Tuesday, Mr Zuckerberg will begin a round of Congressional hearings into Facebook’s handling of data and other issues.

It will be the first time the 33-year-old has personally appeared to represent the social network he founded, and comes following intense pressure to do so. Likely on the minds of senators and representatives will be the extent to which Facebook is able to prevent attempts to manipulate voters in the future.

In October 2017, the company began forcing those placing ads to support specific candidates to make it clear who was funding that promotion.

“We're extending that requirement to anyone that wants to show 'issue ads’ - like political topics that are being debated across the country,” the company said.

"We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time. To get authorised by Facebook, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location.

"Advertisers will be prohibited from running political ads - electoral or issue-based - until they are authorised."

Perhaps foreshadowing Mr Zuckerberg’s response to politicians next week, the statement admitted this system would not solve the problem entirely.

"We know we were slow to pick-up foreign interference in the 2016 US elections.

"Today's updates are designed to prevent future abuse in elections - and to help ensure you have the information that you need to assess political and issue ads, as well as content on pages.

"By increasing transparency around ads and pages on Facebook, we can increase accountability for advertisers — improving our service for everyone."

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