Facebook said that it would not take political advertising the week before the Nov. 3 election, the latest step the platform is taking amid criticism that it has been a source of rampant disinformation.
The company also outlined other steps to try to stem confusion, including attaching labels to content that “seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods,” including claims that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud. Already, President Donald Trump has claimed that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud, falsely asserting that some states are sending voters ballots en masse when in fact they are being given applications to obtain mail in ballots.
Facebook also said that if any candidate tries to declare victory before the final results are in, it will add a label to their posts directing users to the official results from Reuters and the National Election Pool. There is a concern that a victory will declared based on in-person voting, when states have yet to tabulate massive numbers of mail-in ballots. That can make a huge difference in the outcome and take several days or even weeks.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced the policy on Thursday and appeared on CBS This Morning, where he told co-anchor Gayle King that “we’re going to take this seriously and make sure that people aren’t declaring victory and saying any kind of ongoing counting of votes is evidence of a rigged election or anything like that.”
Facebook also said that it would remove posts that claim that people will get the coronavirus if they take part in voting.
Zuckerberg has been criticized for not taking greater steps to root out misinformation on his platform, but he’s defended decisions, like a refusal to ban political ads outright, as Twitter did last year, or to monitor them for fact-checking purposes. “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians and the news,” Zuckerberg said during an earnings call last year.
Still, Facebook’s latest moves did not temper concerns among some progressive groups.
Tara McGowan, CEO of ACRONYM, said in a statement, “A weeklong blackout of new political ad creative before the most important election in our nation’s history is a shallow and dangerous public relations move, not a solution to the spread of election misinformation and violence-inciting hate speech that has proliferated under Facebook’s watch.”
Instead, she said that the policy will actually prevent campaigns from responding to posts from right-wing media personalities, which are not ads yet often are ranked among Facebook’s most-viewed posts.
“When the ability to run new ads are taken off the table, the only pages that can reach and influence Americans at any meaningful scale are those with the largest organic followings on the platform,” she said. “Who are those pages? Fox News, Breitbart, Ben Shapiro, to name just a few.”