Facebook will suspend US political advertising after election

8 Oct 2020

Image: Facebook

Facebook will temporarily ban social issue, electoral and political ads after this year’s US election to prevent the spread of misinformation or confusion.

Facebook has announced plans to ban political advertisements indefinitely after the upcoming US presidential election on 3 November.

The social media platform made the decision in an attempt to prevent political candidates from using Facebook to prematurely declare victory or manipulate the aftermath of the election. It said this would be a temporary measure and advertisers will be notified when the policy is lifted.

Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, made the announcement in a company blogpost. “While ads are an important way to express voice, we plan to temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral or political ads in the US after the polls close on 3 November, to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse,” he wrote.

‘If a candidate or party declares premature victory before a race is called by major media outlets, we will add more specific information’

Rosen noted that it may take longer for the final election results to come in this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an increased number of people voting by mail. Facebook has prepared a range of policies to prevent the spread of misinformation in light of this.

The company plans to run a notification at the top of Facebook and Instagram and apply labels to candidates’ posts directing people to the platform’s Voting Information Center for more information about the vote-counting process.

The Facebook app displaying information on the US election.

Facebook’s Voting Information Center. Image: Facebook

“If a candidate or party declares premature victory before a race is called by major media outlets, we will add more specific information in the notifications that counting is still in progress and no winner has been determined,” Rosen said.

Additionally, if the candidate that is declared the winner by major media outlets is contested by another candidate or party, Facebook will show the name of the candidate at the top of Facebook and Instagram. It will also label posts from candidates with the declared winner’s name and a link to the Voting Information Center.

The company’s decision comes after US president Donald Trump previously failed to endorse a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Trump has also used his online platform to make baseless warnings about voting fraud and mail-in ballots.

Facebook said last month that no new political advertising in the US will be accepted in the week before the presidential election in November. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that in the final days of an election there “may not be enough time to contest new claims”.

Facebook is not the only company in the tech industry to take action against political advertisements.

Last year, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey made the decision to ban all political ads from the platform, citing significant risks to politics. In recent weeks, Google also announced plans to block US political advertisements temporarily after the upcoming US election day.

Preparing for the election

In Facebook’s blogpost, Rosen also said that 120,000 pieces of Facebook and Instagram content have been removed for violating the company’s voter interference policies.

A further 150m pieces of content have been updated by Facebook to display warnings that they have been debunked by fact-checkers. The company also said it has rejected advertisement submissions before they could run, stating that the ads were targeting the US without completing the authorisation process.

Rosen said that since the last US presidential election in 2016, the company has built more teams and worked with more experts and policymakers.

“We worked on more than 200 elections around the globe since then, learning from each, and now have more than 35,000 people across the company working on safety and security issues. As a result, we’ve made substantial progress,” he said.

Since 2016, Facebook has been building a viral content review system to flag posts that are quickly going viral, regardless of what type of content might be included. The company said that this helps to catch content that may not be caught through its traditional systems.

This tool has been used in the run-up to the election to help the company determine if action needs to be taken against posts that are likely to go viral on Facebook or Instagram.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic