Political ads on Facebook, Instagram may include A.I. What Meta plans to do about it

South Carolinians may see lots of political advertisements on their social media feeds as the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries in February draw closer.

But if any of those ads use artificial intelligence on any of Meta’s platforms, that information must be disclosed by the advertiser.

Meta, the parent company of social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, plans to institute a new policy in January to require A.I. disclosure on advertisements.

The policy says a disclaimer will run with a political or social issue advertisement whenever it contains a photo-realistic image or video, or realistic-sounding audio, that was digitally created or altered by A.I. or other methods to depict a real person saying or doing something they did not say or do themselves.

“There’s been a lot of focus on what A.I. will do and how it will change politics and ads,” Erin McPike, a spokeswoman for Meta, told The State. “Voters are always saying that they want more information. They want this kind of transparency and so this is our effort to be proactive and to give them that.”

The policy also will apply to advertisements that include a realistic-looking person that does not exist, a realistic-looking event that did not happen or altered footage of a real event. Any advertisement that depicts a realistic event that allegedly occurred that does not have true images, video or audio of the event would also need the A.I. disclaimer.

The policy applies to campaigns and political action committees who often run ads in support of candidates.

An advertisement with A.I. but without the disclaimer, in violation of the policy, will be removed. An advertiser with repeated violations face other punishments, including the inability to advertise on the platform.

More and more advertisements, potentially with A.I., are expected to pop up ahead of the early 2024 presidential primaries.

South Carolina will kick off the Democratic presidential nominating process on Feb. 3. The Feb. 24 Republican primary in the Palmetto State is the First in the South contest.

Winning these early contests is key, especially for Republicans. Since 1980, the winner of the S.C. GOP primary has gone on to win the nomination, with the exception of 2012, when former House speaker Newt Gingrich won the state but ultimately lost the nomination to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Advertising can be more effective at persuading people during a primary election than a general election, said Karyn Amira, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.

“In a general election, most people have already decided who they’re voting for and an ad or statement can’t change their position,” Amira said. “(In) a primary election, when you can’t rely on your partisanship to make a decision, and you have to learn about candidates or issues. That could be a space where advertising is more effective.”

On social media, ads are more targeted toward specific users, Amira said.

“There’s better information about who you can reach demographically than through a television news station,” Amira said.

The required use of the A.I. disclaimer may effect people’s perceptions of the advertiser, but its true impact is still unknown.

“If the disclaimer about A.I. were to be made salient to people, either by noticing it, or someone brought it to their attention, my best guess would be this would make people lose trust in that sponsor, or that campaign that used it,” Amira said. “We know that negative ads decrease trust in people or in some cases demobilize people and I think there’s a possibility that A.I. could do something similar, but I will hedge my words on it because clearly nobody has studied this yet.”

Meta’s new rule is not limited to the presidential race. It applies to any social, electoral or political advertisement.

“Meta is a leader certainly in both social media and in A.I. development,” McPike said. “And so we want to be proactive and we want to give our users the transparency they deserve.”