Fake news and alternative facts have hurt Facebook Inc. (FB) during the run-up to the U.S. election, but now it has another problem to contend with: fake advertisements.
According to a report in Forbes, Facebook ads that pretend to direct users to a website but send them elsewhere when they click on them are not only easy to set up but in some instances get approved in minutes by the social network company. Known as domain spoofing in the security and hacker worlds, basically a scammer will put a URL in an ad that is familiar to consumers, but when they click on it they are sent to a different website where the hacker is hoping the consumer logs in turning over their credentials to the bad guy.
According to Forbes, some of the websites the consumers land on are actually a means to distribute malware or other computer viruses. Forbes said a design feature in the advertising system at Facebook makes this all possible because advertisers have the option to enter the URL manually in the ad. Justin Seitz, a hacker from Canada, discovered the problem last summer, but with the ability to make the fake ads unresolved, he reached out to Forbes to demonstrate how easily it can be done. Forbes said it took Seitz less than 15 minutes to get and advertisement with a fake URL live on Facebook.
A Thorn In Facebook’s Side
The revelation of the ability to make fraudulent ads couldn’t come at a worse time for the social network operator, which is trying to improve its reputation and increase trust among its users. In an era where President Trump and his allies offer up “alternative facts” about crowd sizes at his inauguration and deems anything critical of himself “fake news,” Facebook is trying to make sure alternative facts don’t land on its news feeds anymore.
In January, Facebook announced it is launching the Journalism Project, an initiative aimed to create a healthier “news ecosystem” on its platform. Facebook is rolling out a number of initiatives, including promoting news literacy and developing additional tools to “curb news hoaxes.” Facebook also outlined plans to collaborate with news outlets on publishing tools and features before they’re released. The Journalism Project coincides with the company’s hiring of Campbell Brown, a former CNN prime-time host, to lead its news partnerships team. (See also: Facebook’s Fake News Is Fixable: Chief AI Researcher.)