The world largest social networking site, Facebook has announced it will stop accepting political advertisements in the United States in the seven days that leads up to the U.S. Presidential election. This is part of the series of steps which the company is taking in order to protect against election interference according to the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“The US elections are just two months away, and with COVID-19 affecting communities across the country, I’m concerned about the challenges people could face when voting,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post announcing the move. “I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”
Meanwhile for now, electoral candidates as well as political action committees will continue buying ads which had already received at least one impression by October 27th according to Facebook. They can in fact choose to target those existing ads at different groups or adjust how much they’d like to spend.
Their limitations includes inability to launch new creative campaigns which is a hedge against candidates spreading misinformation during the election period as it’s all eyes on Facebook after the company had faced numerous backlashes as well as earn blames for the 2016’s Russian meddling with the election.
There have been a number of loud critics requesting the company stop selling advertisements while political campaigners argued that ads benefit lesser-known candidates and can be essential for the “Get-out-the-vote” efforts.
The measures will do what it can to help stop or at least reduce to the barest minimum hoaxes and fake news from being spread across the platform about the result of the election. There have in fact been cases where voters are said to fear physical participation during the polls but would rather prefer the mail-in voting.
Other steps announced by Facebook today include:
- Putting the company’s “Voter Information Center” at the top of the Facebook and Instagram feeds. The widget contains accurate, verified information and videos about how to vote, and will remain at the top of the feed until Election Day. It will begin appearing this week for all US users, Facebook said.
- Using the Voter Information Center to educate Americans about the fact that the winner of the presidency may not be declared the night of the election, as mail-in ballots could take days or weeks to be counted.
- Providing live, official election results as they become available through a partnership with Reuters. The information will appear in the Voter Information Center, and Facebook will also deliver updates via push notifications.
- Removing posts that contain “clear misinformation” about COVID-19 and voting.
- Adding a link to accurate information about COVID-19 to posts that attempt to discourage people from voting by invoking fears about the disease.
- Adding a label to any candidate or campaign post that attempts to declare victory before the results are official. The label will direct users to information from Reuters.
- Adding a label to posts that attempt to cast doubt on the outcome of the election.
Facebook further added that it would expand its policies against voter suppression which will then include “implicit misrepresentations” about the process even if that would discourage voting.
In the company’s statement, it reads that “I hear anybody with a driver’s license gets a ballot this year” will no longer be allowed under the expanded policy.
The social network giant’s work with governmental officials to identify posts that are aimed at suppressing voters will also start according to the company.
Facebook had at a point worked with local election officials which began from 72 hours before election in order to look for posts with misleading information about voting. With the next election being expected to be based on the mail-in voting, it meant the company needs to start taking down hoaxes and fake news throughout the platform if it ever want to succeed in the process.
With that, the company said it will temporarily restrict the number of people that one can forward links to in Messenger to five per message. This practice began back in August 17th but will go effective globally later on this month according to Facebook.
The news about the short term political ban had been in the news since July when the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed it in an all-hands meeting with his staff. The company formerly allowed all advertisements on the platform to be viewable on a public library but allows users to turn off political ads.
Twitter on the other hand had banned political ads way back since the ear 2019 and Google also limited campaigns ability to micro-target voters.
“I believe our democracy is strong enough to withstand this challenge and deliver a free and fair election — even if it takes time for every vote to be counted,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “We’ve voted during global pandemics before. We can do this. But it’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us — political parties and candidates, election authorities, the media and social networks, and ultimately voters as well — to live up to our responsibilities.”
With the US election coming up pretty soon, the company has a lot of works to do meanwhile it wants to offer the best service possible to it’s users as well as make its stakeholders happy by just being a social media platform rather than a political tool that can be misused to spread misinformation.