Facebook will ban new political ads for the week leading up to election day, November 3, and remove posts that attempt to suppress or discourage votes, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday.
The measures are also aimed at preventing campaigns and their supporters from making premature victory claims, a situation some Democrats have described as a doomsday scenario.
The announcement was part of a series of steps to address concerns about its use of Facebook to manipulate the elections and included a warning from Zuckerberg about possible unrest in the US related to the election.
“The US elections are only two months away, and with Covid-1
Facebook’s move comes amid growing fears that President Donald Trump and his supporters will use social media to spread evidence-free allegations of election fraud and cast doubt on mail-in votes that are likely to delay final results by several days.
“This election will not go as usual,” wrote Zuckerberg. “Since the pandemic means many of us will vote by mail and some states may still be counting valid ballots after election day, many experts predict that we may not get a final result on election night.”
“It is important that we prepare in advance for this possibility and understand that there can be a period of intense claims and counterclaims when the bottom line is counted,” added the Facebook boss. “This could be a very hot time.”
The new steps also come after Facebook hesitated to act more aggressively on misinformation spread by President Donald Trump, which targeted the company and Zuckerberg with heated criticism, including within the company.
While Facebook has refused to take more aggressive action, such as banning all political ads through Twitter, the company has made a number of changes in the past few months, including the ability for users to opt out of political ads.
The announcement of a ban on new political and published ads in the week leading up to Thursday’s election day adds to this list, although it may not have the same impact as previous elections. Voters are expected to cast far more votes in the mail ahead of the elections than in previous years.
“I generally believe that the best antidote to bad language is more language, but there may not be enough time in the last few days of an election to contest new claims,” Zuckerberg said, despite noting advertisers can still run ads They started running before last week and adjusted the targeting for those ads.
Facebook will also put “authoritative” voting information at the top of users’ Facebook and Instagram feeds, removing any posts that contain misinformation about voting or attempting to use the coronavirus pandemic to prevent voting.
Finally, Facebook says that “if a candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the final results are in,” “a label will be added to their posts that will lead people to the official Reuters results”.
Over the past few months, Trump has repeatedly attempted to question the integrity of the elections, questioning the legitimacy of mail-in votes. This week he encouraged supporters in North Carolina to test the mail-in system by voting twice, which is illegal.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Democratic Party “is preparing for a worst-case scenario in which Mr Trump will fight in court and in state legislatures after declaring an early victory”.
Democrats are also concerned that Trump and his supporters will use social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to make false claims.
For Facebook, the proactive stance in the 2020 election is an opportunity to offset failures in the 2016 election when foreign governments and groups used the platform to spread misinformation and sow discord.
This time around, however, Facebook sees “increasing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections within our own borders,” Zuckerberg told employees.
“I believe our democracy is strong enough to face this challenge and hold free and fair elections – even if it takes time for every vote to be counted,” he wrote. “We can do it. But we all – political parties and candidates, electoral authorities, media and social networks and ultimately voters – must make a concerted effort to live up to our responsibilities.”