Facebook Turning to Direct Mail to Fix Fake Ads


Some days I swear this stuff just writes itself. Facebook just announced it will now use decidedly non-digital means to verify the identities of political ad buyers on its platform.

The social network has come under a lot of fire in recent months for the massive amount of politically divisive advertising it churned out the last couple of years. And they are being challenged to fix the problem.

Their solution? Direct mail. Postcards, to be exact.

“Facebook Inc will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday,” writes Dustin Volz in Reuters.

“The postcard verification is Facebook’s latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia’s use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Volz continues.

According to Facebook’s global director of policy programs Katie Harbath, this postcard verification will be required for any ad that mentions a specific candidate running for federal office. She admits it “won’t solve everything,” but Facebook believes that direct mail is the most effective way to keep Russian operatives and others out of our country’s political borsch.

Meanwhile, it might be too little, too late for a lot of big brands. Unilever, for one, has threatened to pull ads from the Facebook/Google duopoly.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children … it is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing,” stated Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO in a speech made at the Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California last Monday.

According to Melynda Fuller in Publishing Insider, the massive consumer brand “has threatened to pull all ads from Facebook and Google unless the companies do something—and quickly—to clean up content.”

“Last year, Unilever spent $9.4 billion on marketing—about a third of that on digital advertising—making it one of the medium’s biggest advertisers,” Fuller notes. That would definitely leave a dent and perhaps gives Unilever enough clout to actually force some change.

When the extent of the fake news problem first erupted, Facebook was all gung-ho to figure out a solution – tech-based, naturally – that would weed out the garbage. Turns out, that’s pretty hard to do.

As Fuller explains, “when the task of taking on fake news proved too big, the platform declared itself free from responsibility, leaving the task of verifying news stories to its users.”

Nice try, Facebook, but you cannot claim that you are simply a social platform; when you started making editorial decisions about publisher content, you became something much more, and with that comes a responsibility to take out the trash. You can’t simply say “not my problem” like it never happened.

The love affair between Facebook and publishers is over; media brands are abandoning Instant Articles, giving back the tarnished ring of “free” third-party distribution, and rebuilding their own platforms on which to drive ad revenue.

“If public trust in Facebook and Google declines to a low enough level, how viable will their platforms be to advertisers,” Fuller asks, “and will Unilever’s stance trickle down through the entirety of the advertising industry?”

My gut says it’s time to stop feeding the beast.