While browsing Facebook Marketplace for local used electronics this weird ad appears again and again.

The ads link to an imitation of Fox News with a phony story about a conflict between the on-air performers there. The ultimate purpose is to sell CBD gummies to old people. In the story, Martha isn’t giving in to “cancel culture” or “big pharma” – she’s going to keep selling those gummies. But not for money! No! This is a passion project and her way of giving back.

Facebook clearly has a problem with malicious advertising. This failure to detect a spoofed page on an outbound link from their platform does not inspire confidence in their ability to handle the more complicated and difficult task of protecting their users from misinformation.

Seeing the same ad coming from multiple sources, it’s fair to guess that the company has also has difficulty dealing with “Sybil attacks” – subverting Facebook’s attempts at moderation by creating a number of accounts posting substantially the same malicious advert.

After reporting the ads as misleading, Facebook offers an option to “see more info about this advertiser.” This confirms that multiple accounts are posting the same ad. That ought to be an easy abuse to catch, but it flies under Facebook’s radar. Account creation dates covered a wide range. Possibly these are compromised accounts. The page also offers to show you what other ads the account is running, but that feature doesn’t work. It falsely reports the advertiser isn’t running any ads at all.

A woman rendered in the Corporate Memphis style proudly surveys Facebook’s broken pages.

Suggestions for Facebook

  1. Devise a system to detect when multiple accounts are posting substantially the same advertisement.
  2. Devise a system to detect popular trademarks in outbound links where they don’t belong.
  3. Fix the problem with finding all of the ads an advertiser is running. That may mean indexing them sooner or leaving them in the index for a little while after they’ve been pulled.

Update, Two Weeks Later

Facebook Marketplace still has these weird ads. “WE SAY GOODBYE.

Same imitation of Fox News, but on a different domain: raphaelgreat.uk.com.

Looking into three of the advertisers, they’re apparently unrelated. Maybe created for this purpose or compromised accounts.

The feature that’s supposed to let you see what other ads an advertiser is running is still broken.

Other Page Trasparency features also falsely report no ads are being run by the accounts involved.

A newspaper from Australia reported that the Ad Library Report functionality was recently broken, and that when it is operating normally “data on new ads is added within 24 hours of a post going online.” When malicious advertisers have access to numerous compromised accounts and can cycle through them quickly, 24 hours is not fast enough.