The United Kingdom went to the polls last month. Two days prior to election day, almost half of Facebook's British political ads disappeared from Facebook's Ad Library. Facebook reported that a bug that made those ads unavailable for a little over a day. That's pretty low downtime; so, why does it matter?
It matters because Facebook has taken the stance that it won't fact check, or monitor the content of political ads. Instead, the company has taken a transparency approach to political ads. Through the Facebook Ad Library, Ad Library Report, and the Ad Library API, researchers and the public can study how users are targeted on Facebook and monitor Facebook Ads' impact on global elections. At least, that's the goal.
This transparency approach only works if the underlying data is available to the media, researchers, and the broader public at the time of elections. Two days before the UK elections, the data was unavailable, and the transparency check couldn't operate. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Facebook's election security measures have failed around elections.
During the 2018 US elections, the API was not functional. Weeks before the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, bugs again hampered its functionality. 2020 is a presidential election year for the US. Even if Facebook's tools adequately police its impact on elections, in theory, one can't help but ask: will they be available when the public needs them to do their job?