Facebook's big solution to combating election ad fraud: Snail mail

Lo-tech brainwave 'won't solve everything', says biz

A picture of a US mail box

In the face of increasing public pressure to address election fraud, Facebook has come up with a novel way to check who's buying advertising on its site – snail mail.

As the Zuckerborg's shine rapidly fades, and governments and users wake up to the effects it has had on society, the firm is engaged in a battle to prove it can tackle the problems it has, in part, created.

Central to this are criticisms over the ease with which Russian actors were able to use and manipulate the platform – and others – to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

One concern raised on both sides of the Atlantic is how Facebook monitors who is buying advertising on the site, to ensure they are based in the country in question. In the US, foreign nationals can't donate money to, or spend cash on, federal, state or local elections.

Similar rules apply in the UK, and parliamentarians have slammed Facebook's inability to say where money for campaign ads came from, saying that if cash came from overseas the biz could be "facilitating an illegal act".

In a bid to address this, Facebook has announced plans to send potential advertisers codes through the post so they can prove they live where they claim to.

The change, announced at the US conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State this weekend, will be for adverts that mention a specific candidate rather than issue-based ads, Reuters reported.

"If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States," Katie Harbath, Facebook's global director of policy programs, is quoted as saying.

It isn't clear exactly how the system will work, but presumably it will be more complex than sending potential purchasers a postcard to an address they supply (El Reg imagines it would be pretty simple to scam such a system, with a forwarding address, for instance).

But the firm isn't making too much of its lo-tech solution, anyway. "It won't solve everything," Harbath told Reuters, showing true mastery of understatement.

Facebook hasn't said when the system will be rolled out, although it indicated it would be in use before the US midterm elections in November this year.

The Register asked Facebook whether the plan would also be extended to UK political campaigns and we'll update this if they give us an answer. ®

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