Facebook to put a halt on new political ads in run up to US election

4 Sep 2020

Image: © kovop58/Stock.adobe.com

Mark Zuckerberg said his company is to ban new political advertising in the run up to a US election that won’t be ‘business as usual’.

No new political advertising in the US will be accepted in the week before the presidential election in November, Facebook has confirmed. In a profile post, the company’s CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, revealed plans for how the social media platform aims to prevent election interference.

“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.

“I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalised, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country. This election is not going to be business as usual.”

‘In the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims’

Addressing the one-week moratorium on political advertising, Zuckerberg said that his general approach is that “the best antidote to bad speech is more speech, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims”.

Advertisers will still be able to run ads they posted prior to the last week of campaigning and adjust their targeting, but these ads will have already been catalogued in the company’s ad library, made available to the public, journalists and fact-checkers for scrutiny.

Facebook also said it will limit forwarding on its Messenger platform before and during the election in order to limit the spread of viral misinformation, similar to what happened with WhatsApp earlier this year.

‘We’ve voted during global pandemics before’

Covid-19 misinformation has also been specifically targeted. Facebook said it will remove posts that claim people will get the virus if they take part in voting. This will be done through links attached to posts directing users to information from health authorities.

With many expected to take part in voting by post and with a result potentially not announced on election night, the social network said it will try to make users aware of this when there could be “a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted”.

Through a partnership with Reuters and the US National Election Pool, Facebook will publish election results information. Zuckerberg said that if any candidate tries to claim victory before the official result, the company will add a label to their post directing users to the official results.

Facebook has also promised to ramp up efforts to clamp down on conspiracy theory groups and networks such as QAnon.

“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. “We’ve voted during global pandemics before. We can do this.”

In June, Facebook said that it was rolling out a voting information hub and a feature allowing users to opt out of political advertising.

The company also announced the launch of a new project earlier this week, where independent researchers will examine Facebook’s role in political participation, political polarisation, knowledge and trust in US elections.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic