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Transparency behind political ads depends on platform

With election season heating up, there is still Russian interference, according to news programs. How can I tell if a political ad is made by Russia intended to disrupt our elections?

— Chauncey F., via email

The extent to which Russian (or any other) political actors might be playing with your head, Chauncey, depends on where you are most likely to come in contact with political advertisements, as the platform determines the level of transparency.

Television is one of the most opaque advertising landscapes when it comes to political content. This midterm election, outside groups (those political groups not officially tied to a candidate campaign) had funded about 43 percent of television ads airing regarding Senate races and a third of House races, according to a report released in May by the Wesleyan Media Project and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The majority of those TV ads are funded by organizations that are not required to disclose their donors to the Federal Elections Commission — meaning the money, called “dark money” for obvious reasons, could be funneled through an organization registered to a P.O. Box from any number of domestic or foreign donors.

That same report showed TV advertising has increased 90 percent from where it was at this point during the last midterm election (2014). The reach and frequency of TV advertising is spreading, but transparency is not. One piece of good news for Oregon is we are not exactly a political TV advertising hotspot.

On social media, advertising is slowly beginning to gain some level of transparency with regard to who funded it. A useful tool is Facebook’s advertising archive, which allows you to search through political advertisements by topic. Search away at https://bit.ly/2LeQp96.

If you’re a Twitter user, try searching through the Ads Transparency Center for specific advertisers. Find that tool at https://bit.ly/2O1mOh0.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.