Facebook will stop making new political ads in the United States in the seven days leading up to the election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today as part of a series of steps the company is taking to protect itself from electoral interference.
“The US election is just two months away, and as COVID-19 affects communities across the country, I am concerned about the challenges people may face in voting,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post in which he announced the her move. “I am also concerned that with our nation so divided and election results possibly taking days or even weeks to be final, there is an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”
Candidates and political action committees can continue to buy ads on Oct. 27 that have already received at least one impression, the company said. They can also choose to target those existing ads to different groups or adjust their spend levels. But they won’t be able to launch new creative campaigns – a safeguard against candidates spreading misinformation during a particularly fraught moment in the company’s history.
The move represents a compromise between critics who demanded the company stop selling ads altogether and political campaigners who claimed that ads benefit lesser-known candidates and could be essential to voting efforts. It is unlikely to appease critics who argue that Facebook’s policy against controlling political ads allows it to take advantage of disinformation and the steady erosion of American democracy. But it could prevent the worst of attempts to spread hoaxes and fear in an election transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, voters’ fear of physically going to the polls and a new reliance on post-in-voting.
Other steps announced by Facebook today include:
- Place the company’s “Voter Information Center” at the top of Facebook and Instagram feeds. The widget contains accurate, verified information and videos on how to vote and stays at the top of the feed until election day. It will release to all US users this week, Facebook said.
- Using the Voter Information Center to educate Americans that the winner of the presidency may not be declared on election night, as it can take days or weeks for ballots to be counted.
- Delivers 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 provide updates via push notifications.
- Removing messages containing “obvious false information” about COVID-19 and voting.
- Adding a link to accurate information about COVID-19 to messages trying to discourage people from voting by raising fears about the disease.
- Add a label to a candidate or campaign post that tries to declare victory before the results are official. The label will direct users to information from Reuters.
- Add a label to posts that attempt to cast doubt on the outcome of the election.
The company also said it would expand its anti-voter suppression policy to include “implicit misrepresentations” of the process, even if they don’t discourage voting. The statement “I hear that everyone with a driver’s license will get a vote this year” will no longer be allowed under the expanded policy, Facebook said.
Facebook’s work with election officials to identify posts intended to suppress voters will now begin, the company said. In the past, it worked with local election officials from 72 hours before the election to look for posts with misleading information about voting. Given this election’s expected reliance on postal votes, that work should begin today, the company said.
Finally, Facebook temporarily limits the number of people you can forward links to in Messenger to five per message. That move began on August 17 and will roll out globally later this month, Facebook said. The company has adopted similar restrictions for WhatsApp last year.
The news that Facebook is considering banning a short-term political advertising ban broke in July, when Zuckerberg spoke about it at a rally with all his staff. The company has previously exposed all ads on the service in a public library and allowed users to ‘disable’ political ads.
Still, other platforms have taken a more restrictive approach. Twitter last year banned political advertising and Google acted to limit the ability of campaigns to microtarget voters.
“I believe our democracy is strong enough to meet this challenge and hold free and fair elections – even if it takes time for every vote to be counted,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “We’ve voted before during global pandemics. We can do this. But it will take a concerted effort from all of us – political parties and candidates, electoral authorities, the media and social networks, and ultimately voters – to fulfill our responsibilities. “