Snapchat users can see who's behind political ads with new feature

PHOTO: The Snapchat messaging application is seen on a phone screen, Aug. 3, 2017. PlayThomas White/Reuters, FILE
WATCH News headlines today: Oct. 21, 2019

Snap, the maker of the Snapchat app, unveiled an online database featuring all of the political ads within Snapchat, as 2020 presidential campaigns intensify and tech giants face increased scrutiny for their roles in the spread of information each election year.

The social media app company's Political and Advocacy Ads Library feature aims to give "the public an opportunity to find out details about all political and advocacy advertising running on our platform," according to its website.

PHOTO: A woman holds a mobile phone with the Snapchat app, March 3, 2017. Kirsty OConnor/PA Wire via AP
A woman holds a mobile phone with the Snapchat app, March 3, 2017.

Snap said that a political ad will appear in the library -- which is available as a downloadable sheet -- within 24 hours of it being delivered, and provide information about who created the ad, the targeting criteria, impressions and more.

Snap told ABC News that it has taken a unique approach in its newly-launched political ads library in that all of the ads are vetted by humans. Political ads also must include a "paid for by" disclosure and may not be paid for by non-resident foreign nationals.

Dipayan Ghosh, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy as well as a former privacy and public policy adviser at Facebook, told ABC News in a statement that this is a "critical development for a platform that has become increasingly important in American media."

"Though this is a positive step forward, we must demand better political ad transparency of Snap," he added. "Clear disclaimers identifying political content to users, real time disclosures of engagement statistics, a searchable online database, better visualizations of historical ad creatives, and granular information about ad targeting and audience segmentation are all vital given Snapchat's increasing importance."

Ghosh added that if tech giants and the broader internet industry "fail to offer such transparency, our democratic process will remain vulnerable to disinformation operations."

PHOTO: The Snapchat messaging application is seen on a phone screen, Aug. 3, 2017. Thomas White/Reuters, FILE
The Snapchat messaging application is seen on a phone screen, Aug. 3, 2017.

Snapchat's effort comes on the heels of Facebook announcing it was also tightening its rules surrounding political ads ahead of the 2020 election, forcing advertisers to confirm their group's identity using a tax identification number (or other government ID) and including "paid for by" disclaimers, according to the Associated Press.

Critics, however, were quick to point out a loophole in Facebook's efforts that smaller groups could use if they don't have a tax ID, government website or registration with the FTC.