Facebook scraps dark posts to enforce ad transparency

Thanks to Russian saboteurs, brands will no longer be able to use dark posts to target specific groups and keep their ad strategy secret.

dark posts

The age of dark posting on Facebook appears to be over – and it’s all thanks to election interference.

Dark posts have always appeared on the news feeds of targeted users, but not on the company page of the brand that sent them. This was useful for two reasons:

  1. It allowed a company to target specific groups with different messaging;
  2. Followers of that company weren’t bombarded with posts that may not have been relevant to them.

But after a Russian entity bought thousands of ads in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is keen to enforce transparency.

In a case of the minority enforcing a change on the majority, the new system will affect all advertisers – not just those with nefarious or political motives.

From November, users will be able to click a ‘View Ads’ button on a Page to view all ads that brand is running on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram – regardless of whether a user is the intended target audience for those ads.

Facebook has made it clear that political transparency is at the forefront of the update, with Rob Goldman, VP of Ads, saying in a blog post: “When it comes to advertising on Facebook, people should be able to tell who the advertiser is and see the ads they’re running, especially for political ads.

“That level of transparency is good for democracy and it’s good for the electoral process. Transparency helps everyone, especially political watchdog groups and reporters, keep advertisers accountable for who they say they are and what they say to different groups.”

READ MORE: An 8-step marketer’s guide to nailing Facebook ads

Luke Brynley-Jones of UK social media agency OST Marketing says the update is unlikely to impact regular Facebook users, but will lead to the platform becoming a useful reconnaissance tool for the competition.

“The biggest impact will be that competitors of our clients can see the full range of adverts we’re publishing and vice versa,” he said. “We don’t see this affecting fans, just people who have a specific interest in learning more about our ad strategy.”

Indeed, individual users may not bat an eyelid at the change, but it will have significant ramifications in a marketplace that up to now has enjoyed a level of secrecy.

Under the old system, if Burger King – for instance – wanted to get the inside track on McDonald’s Facebook ad activity, they would only have very limited information to work with. From November, however, they will be able to navigate to McDonald’s page, click ‘View Ads’ and have instant access to a treasure trove of data.

Furthermore, brands often use dark posts as a way to test ads without the results being displayed for the whole world to see. This kind of testing is common practice, but brands are likely to be more guarded now that their competitors can see their workings.

Facebook will start testing the new feature in Canada and roll it out to the US by next summer, as well as broadly to all other countries around the same time.

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