An overwhelming majority of tech experts surveyed by the Washington Post said that social media companies were correct to suspend former President Donald J. Trump’s accounts after the failed putsch at the U.S. Capitol in January 6, 2021. That includes … Continue reading
This past week, Facebook launched a new political ad transparency website. Facebook believes that “shining a light on ads” will increase transparency, which in turn “will lead to increased accountability & responsibility over time – not just for Facebook but advertisers as well.“
I think they’re right — which should be no surprise given my focus on advocating for more political transparency in Washington over the two years I spent at the Sunlight Foundation — but reviewing reports of unlabeled political ads is going to be hard.
Overall, this site is a welcome step towards more transparency, but misses the mark. The site only “exceeds expectations” if you think a search interface that exposes no underlying data is sufficient to inform the public and regulators.
In my initial assessment, I concur with journalists who found Facebook’s new political ad system is missing a lot, as ProPublica reported. (Please install ProPublica’s political ad collector so they can inform the public about how well Facebook’s tool actually works.)
It was easy to use @Facebook‘s new archive of “ads with political content” – essentially a simple search tool for paid political ads that have run since May 7, 2018 – once I got on my laptop and logged in. I found recent ads that matched Trump, Clinton, gun control & corruption. pic.twitter.com/Fhx0lrMzBE
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) May 24, 2018
On the one hand, it was easy to use Facebook’s new archive of “ads with political content” – essentially a simple search tool for paid political ads that have run since May 7, 2018 – at least once I got on my laptop and logged into Facebook. I found recent ads that matched Trump, Clinton, gun control and corruption.
If you click on “see ad performance,” you can learn more about each ad.
If you click “see ad performance,” you see the ad content, who paid, when it was active, how many impressions it received, total spent, & breakdown of audience by age, gender & location.
But clicking “view all ads” brings you to aggregate search results, NOT the page or a profile pic.twitter.com/8XtzmWqdYy
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) May 24, 2018
If you click on the username, you arrive at the Page behind the ads. Unfortunately, there’s no tab for political ads or link to this archive. It’s hard to see how folks will find them, without it.
If you click on the username – in this case, Donald Trump, @realDonaldTrump‘s campaign account on @Facebook – you arrive at the Page behind the ads. Unfortunately, there’s no tab for political ads or link to this archive. It’s hard to see how folks will find them, without it. pic.twitter.com/EASlccVAhF
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) May 24, 2018
As I noted on Twitter, however, there’s one more critical wrinkle: you can’t get to the page unless you’re logged into Facebook!
This would be hilariously ironic, if it weren’t for the context of Russian interference and how Facebook handled it. Self-regulation is not enough.
As sociology professor Zeynep Tufecki noted, no one — whether member of the public, the press, watchdog, academic, regulator or legislator – should have to agree to Facebook’s Terms of Service and become a user to access political data.
😱 You shouldn’t have to agree to Facebook TOS in order to access information about political reports. In fact, that is a core problem. I’ve seen examples where schools put *emergency* information on Facebook and people have to agree to FB TOS to learn whether children are safe. https://t.co/6kmsOXgYgu
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) May 24, 2018
To Facebook’s credit, the director of product at Facebook, Rob Leathern, responded publicly to Tufecki on Twittter, stating that this page is a first step:
“More ways are coming to make the ads with political content and information more accessible to people. One of those is an API, another is exploring opening the archive to people not on Facebook. We started with the Facebook community to see how they use the tool and gain feedback from third parties, including our newly-formed Election Commission. We’ll continue to update on our progress.”
If Facebook started with open data with no log-in, they could have gotten feedback from third parties like the Center for Responsive Politics or the public. No one should have to be part of Facebook’s “community” to understand who is buying electioneering on the platform, for whom, and what’s being shown.
As I commented to Leathern, if Facebook is only “exploring” making this archive open to people not on Facebook, then it is not implementing the Honest Ads Act, as its staff has claimed to Congress and the public. I asked Facebook to post a public ad file as bulk open data on the open Web.
Leathern told me that “we have prioritized getting the archive in the hands of people to use (as of today) + will follow up soon with an archive API. Thank you for the feedback, we are definitely listening.”
That’s good news, but not good enough.
Real transparency at Facebook will look like a public file of all paid political ads that are disclosed on a public website with bulk open data downloads and an API, none of which require the public to log into the site.
The good news is that I think Facebook understands this page as a start, not an end. In a post that closes matches what he told me, Leathern wrote that they’re “working closely” with a new “Election Commission” to launch an API for the archives.
It’s good news, but no deadline cited.
It’s hard for me not to be happy that Facebook is finally explicitly embracing political ad transparency in words and (some) deeds, including public soul searching about what constitutes a political ad and a policy.
It’s just long overdue. Ultimately, elected representatives should be the ones to enact standards for transparency for political ads online after debate, not tech company executives.
Until Congress and other legislatures around the world empower regulators like Federal Election Commission by updating electioneering rules and enacting standards for disclaimers and disclosures, however, I’m glad to see positive actions.
I hope Facebook, its founder and its staff deliver on its most recent promises and their public obligations. Given past, current or predictable interference, opacity is unpatriotic.
In its search for technology talent, the White House has been recruiting heavily from Google of late, including U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith. Today, President Barack Obama showed that his administration also likes Facebook, announcing that engineer David Recordon would upgrade the White House’s technology infrastructure. The news was first reported by Yahoo.
“In our continued efforts to serve our citizens better, we’re bringing in top tech leaders to support our teams across the federal government,” said President Obama, in a statement. “Today, I’m pleased to welcome David Recordon as the Director of White House Information Technology. His considerable private sector experience and ability to deploy the latest collaborative and communication technologies will be a great asset to our work on behalf of the American people.”
On the one hand, it’s terrific to see The White House attract top tech talent. Getting David Recordon into public service should be a win for the American people. Based upon a somewhat cryptic hint he posted on Facebook last August, it appeared that he was involved in helping to fix Heathcare.gov and another unnamed important project. The blog post that went up at WhiteHouse.gov confirmed that Recordon was “one of those engineers.” Bringing the best engineers the administration can find into the U.S. Digital Service will help the nation avoid more IT catastrophes, and Recordon, a notable open standard advocate who helped develop OpenID, is clearly one of them. That’s good news.
On the other hand, while being the first “Director of White House Information Technology” is clearly great copy for the tech press, working to “ensure that the technology utilized by the White House is efficient, effective, and secure” sounds more or less what the White House chief information officer should be — and has been – doing for years.
Just look at the responsibilities for the Office of the CIO. Per Federal News Radio, the White House CIO for the past two years, Karen Britton, stepped down in January 2015, without any announced replacement since. Michael Hornsby, the director of engineering and operations within OCIO, served as acting CIO. This all leads me to hypothesize that Recordon has effectively been named the new White House CIO but doesn’t have that title.
Regardless, here’s hoping Recordon’s considerable expertise leads to improvements in an information technology infrastructure that has come a long way since 2009 (read this) but still lags the private sector.
President Obama signed an official presidential memorandum today creating the role and establishing an “Executive Committee for Presidential Information Technology” made up of the “Assistant to the president for Management and Administration, the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, the Director of the Office of Administration, the Director of the United States Secret Service, and the Director of the White House Military Office.”
According to the memorandum, which is embedded beneath and reproduced in plaintext below (it’s not online at WhiteHouse.gov yet), this committee will “shall advise and make policy recommendations to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and the Director with respect to operational and procurement decisions necessary to achieve secure, seamless, reliable, and integrated information resources and information systems for the President, Vice President, and EOP.”
In other words, these folks will advise the director on how to by, build and run tech for the White House.
[Photo Credit: Brian Solis]
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 19, 2015
March 19, 2015
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND
THE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATION
SUBJECT: Establishing the Director of White House
Information Technology and the Executive
Committee for Presidential Information Technology
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution
and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to
improve the information resources and information systems
provided to the President, Vice President, and Executive Office
of the President (EOP), I hereby direct the following:
Section 1. Policy. The purposes of this memorandum are to
ensure that the information resources and information systems
provided to the President, Vice President, and EOP are
efficient, secure, and resilient; establish a model for
Government information technology management efforts; reduce
operating costs through the elimination of duplication and
overlapping services; and accomplish the goal of converging
disparate information resources and information systems for the
This memorandum is intended to maintain the President’s
exclusive control of the information resources and information
systems provided to the President, Vice President, and EOP.
High-quality, efficient, interoperable, and safe information
systems and information resources are required in order for the
President to discharge the duties of his office with the support
of those who advise and assist him, and with the additional
assistance of all EOP components. The responsibilities that
this memorandum vests in the Director of White House Information
Technology, as described below, have been performed historically
within the EOP, and it is the intent of this memorandum to
continue this practice.
The Director of White House Information Technology, on
behalf of the President, shall have the primary authority to
establish and coordinate the necessary policies and procedures
for operating and maintaining the information resources and
information systems provided to the President, Vice President,
and EOP. Nothing in this memorandum may be construed to
delegate the ownership, or any rights associated with ownership, 2
of any information resources or information systems, nor of any
record, to any entity outside of the EOP.
Sec. 2. Director of White House Information Technology.
(a) There is hereby established the Director of White House
Information Technology (Director). The Director shall be the
senior officer responsible for the information resources and
information systems provided to the President, Vice President,
and EOP by the Presidential Information Technology Community
(Community). The Director shall:
(i) be designated by the President;
(ii) have the rank and status of a commissioned
officer in the White House Office; and
(iii) have sufficient seniority, education, training,
and expertise to provide the necessary advice,
coordination, and guidance to the Community.
(b) The Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations shall provide
the Director with necessary direction and supervision.
(c) The Director shall ensure the effective use of
information resources and information systems provided to the
President, Vice President, and EOP in order to improve mission
performance, and shall have the appropriate authority to
promulgate all necessary procedures and rules governing these
resources and systems. The Director shall provide policy
coordination and guidance for, and periodically review, all
activities relating to the information resources and information
systems provided to the President, Vice President, and EOP by
the Community, including expenditures for, and procurement of,
information resources and information systems by the Community.
Such activities shall be subject to the Director’s coordination,
guidance, and review in order to ensure consistency with the
Director’s strategy and to strengthen the quality of the
Community’s decisions through integrated analysis, planning,
budgeting, and evaluation processes.
(d) The Director may advise and confer with appropriate
executive departments and agencies, individuals, and other
entities as necessary to perform the Director’s duties under
Sec. 3. Executive Committee for Presidential Information
Technology. There is hereby established an Executive Committee
for Presidential Information Technology (Committee). The
Committee consists of the following officials or their
designees: the Assistant to the President for Management and
Administration; the Executive Secretary of the National Security
Council; the Director of the Office of Administration; the
Director of the United States Secret Service; and the Director
of the White House Military Office.
Sec. 4. Administration. (a) The President or the Deputy
Chief of Staff for Operations may assign the Director and the
Committee any additional functions necessary to advance the
mission set forth in this memorandum.
(b) The Committee shall advise and make policy
recommendations to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and
the Director with respect to operational and procurement 3
decisions necessary to achieve secure, seamless, reliable, and
integrated information resources and information systems for the
President, Vice President, and EOP. The Director shall update
the Committee on both strategy and execution, as requested,
including collaboration efforts with the Federal Chief
Information Officer, with other government agencies, and by
participating in the Chief Information Officers Council.
(c) The Secretary of Defense shall designate or appoint a
White House Technology Liaison for the White House
Communications Agency and the Secretary of Homeland Security
shall designate or appoint a White House Technology Liaison for
the United States Secret Service. Any entity that becomes a
part of the Community after the issuance of this memorandum
shall designate or appoint a White House Technology Liaison for
that entity. The designation or appointment of a White House
Technology Liaison is subject to the review of, and shall be
made in consultation with, the President or his designee. The
Chief Information Officer of the Office of Administration and
the Chief Information Officer of the National Security Council,
and their successors in function, are designated as White House
Technology Liaisons for their respective components. In
coordination with the Director, the White House Technology
Liaisons shall ensure that the day-to-day operation of and
long-term strategy for information resources and information
systems provided to the President, Vice President, and EOP are
interoperable and effectively function as a single, modern, and
high-quality enterprise that reduces duplication, inefficiency,
(d) The President or his designee shall retain the
authority to specify the application of operating policies and
procedures, including security measures, which are used in the
construction, operation, and maintenance of any information
resources or information system provided to the President, Vice
President, and EOP.
(e) Presidential Information Technology Community entities
(i) assist and provide information to the Deputy
Chief of Staff for Operations and the Director,
consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to
implement this memorandum; and
(ii) as soon as practicable after the issuance of
this memorandum, enter into any memoranda of
understanding as necessary to give effect to the
provisions of this memorandum.
(f) As soon as practicable after the issuance of this
memorandum, EOP components shall take all necessary steps,
either individually or collectively, to ensure the proper
creation, storage, and transmission of EOP information on any
information systems and information resources provided to the
President, Vice President, and EOP.
Sec. 5. Definitions. As used in this memorandum:
(a) “Information resources,” “information systems,”
and “information technology” have the meanings assigned by
section 3502 of title 44, United States Code.4
(b) “Presidential Information Technology Community” means
the entities that provide information resources and information
systems to the President, Vice President, and EOP, including:
(i) the National Security Council;
(ii) the Office of Administration;
(iii) the United States Secret Service;
(iv) the White House Military Office; and
(v) the White House Communications Agency.
(c) “Executive Office of the President” means:
(i) each component of the EOP as is or may
hereafter be established;
(ii) any successor in function to an EOP component
that has been abolished and of which the function is
retained in the EOP; and
(iii) the President’s Commission on White House
Fellowships, the President’s Intelligence Advisory
Board, the Residence of the Vice President, and such
other entities as the President from time to time may
Sec. 6. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this
memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive
department, agency, entity, office, or the head
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of
Management and Budget relating to budgetary,
administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with
applicable law and appropriate protections for privacy and civil
liberties, and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not,
create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural,
enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the
United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its
officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
# # #
President Barack Obama shared the news that he would address the nation tomorrow night regarding an executive actions he would take on immigration on Facebook before embedding the video on The White House blog and tweeting a link to it.
Even in late 2014, when the use of social media has become part of the warp and weft of American society and political discourse, seeing the president “go direct” to the people online, not through media, on an issue of this magnitude is worth noting. Over the past year, the Committee to Protect Journalists have hammered the Obama administration on transparency and White House photographers have criticized restrictions on access. Even tough critics of the administration’s record on access for photos or transparency, however, acknowledge the role social media and the Internet has now taken on in getting the words of the president out to the people he serves.
On that count, the fact that the “big four” broadcast TV networks in the U.S., CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC, are not airing the speech is noteworthy, as is that fact that Telemundo and Univision will carry it live.
People that want to listen over the Internet will be able to do so at whitehouse.gov/live or radio.
For more on the news, read the Washington Post’s report on the context that surrounds the executive action and a short history from the past 70 years of actions other presidents have taken on immigration, all of which should be considered in the context of the time, Congress and their longterm efficacy.