Insights & Analyses

Facebook will use old-fashioned ‘snail mail’ to verify identity in paid political ads

February 19, 2018

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” can keep the U.S. Postal Service at bay. Equally persistent, it seems, are Russian trolls and bots on Facebook.

In an effort to fight fraudulent ads pushed by Russian actors looking to influence U.S. elections, Facebook will go decidedly low-tech: The company plans to verify the identities of customers looking to buy political ads by sending them letters via the U.S. mail.

Starting this year, Facebook will attempt to verify the authenticity of an organization by mailing them a physical postcard in the mail. The ad buyer will then enter the special code printed on the card to prove their identity and complete the purchase.

The news comes just days after the U.S. Department of Justice charged 13 Russian nationals with illegally using social media services, like Facebook and Twitter, to stir discontent and influence the presidential election. Facebook’s plans were shared with Reuters by a senior executive at the company, who indicated that the postcard policy should be in effect by this year’s midterm elections.

U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that Russians are once again planning to attempt to meddle in American elections. Just last week, in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that killed 17 people and injured 15 more, Russian bots online were posting pro-gun propaganda to fuel the national debate.

Facebook’s approach won’t stamp out all fraudulent activity on the site, as it only applies to paid ads and not individual users. But the steps taken could help to rebuild trust on the social media platform.

Facebook itself has aspirations about becoming the de facto identity provider on the internet, and has made strides to supplant email addresses for website logins and external account recovery services. But the challenges presented by Russians gaming the system have prompted the site to now turn to a decidedly low-tech method, showcasing how existing digital identity methods are prone to failure or exploitation.