Facebook blocking new political ads ahead of election

Facebook on Thursday announced that it would ban new political advertisements from its platform in the week leading up to the November election as part of an effort to combat misinformation about voting. 

The step is one of a series of moves Facebook said it planned to take in order to “secure the integrity of this year’s elections.” The company additionally said it would remove posts falsely saying people can develop the coronavirus by voting and would attach “information labels” to other content attempting to delegitimize voting methods or the election’s outcome.

And in the event that a candidate declares victory before the final results are in, the company will add labels to the posts directing people to authoritative information, Facebook said. 

“This election is not going to be business as usual,” CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down Russian troll farm | Apple, Google offer exposure notification help | Officials deny attacks on voting infrastructure Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan donate 0M to promote safe, secure elections Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump campaign tweet of Biden clip as manipulated media | Democrats demand in-person election security briefings resume | Proposed rules to protect power grid raise concerns MORE said in a Facebook post. “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”

Facebook has faced continual scrutiny since the 2016 presidential election over how it is moderating misinformation and attempts to interfere in campaigning and elections. The company has also faced continued criticism from Democrats over its policy that exempts political ads from fact-checking. 

Joe BidenJoe BidenKenosha mayor lifts curfew citing several ‘peaceful’ nights Conway says even more ‘hidden, undercover’ Trump voters will help him win reelection Disrupting the presidential debates MORE‘s presidential campaign in June called for Facebook to take a more aggressive approach to speech from politicians, including fact-checking political ads during the two weeks before Election Day. 

Zuckerberg said Thursday that campaigns would still be able to run ads during the week leading up to the election that were already on the platform. Advertisers will also retain the ability to target user demographics for those ads. But Zuckerberg acknowledged there may not be enough time to scrutinize new ads when the election is so close. 

“I generally believe 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,” he said. 

Zuckerberg added that Facebook officials will partner with state election authorities to identify and remove false claims about polling conditions and early voting from now until an election outcome is announced. The platform’s new Voting Information Center will also be placed at the top of Facebook and Instagram feeds “almost every day until the election,” he said. 

The company rolled out a series of changes designed to combat attempts to disenfranchise or confuse voters. It already actively removes posts with explicit misrepresentations about voting, but the new policy expands it to include more implicit claims that may mislead people. 

Zuckerberg noted that Facebook is imposing Messenger app forwarding limits to preempt harmful or false content from going viral. Users will only be able to forward chats to one person at a time. The policy is similar to one WhatsApp instated in 2019 that created a five-person message forwarding limit. 

Facebook earlier this year announced an initiative to help at least 4 million voters register this year. To assist those efforts, the company launched its Voting Information Center last month, which directs users to state websites offering registration, among other things. 

The company is also labeling all posts from politicians and the general public that have to do with the 2020 election. The labels direct people to more information about voting and do not contain fact-checks.

The moves come amid an increasingly contentious 2020 campaign in which both the Biden and Trump campaigns actively use the platform for political advertising. Twitter has banned political advertisements from its platform entirely; Google, meanwhile, accepts political ads, but has imposed limits on targeting. 

President Trump’s reelection campaign denounced Facebook’s new ad policy, saying it would only harm Republicans ahead of the election. 

“In the last seven days of the most important election in our history, President TrumpDonald John TrumpKenosha mayor lifts curfew citing several ‘peaceful’ nights MSNBC’s Joy Reid concedes ‘framing’ of Muslim comments ‘didn’t work’ Conway says even more ‘hidden, undercover’ Trump voters will help him win reelection MORE will be banned from defending himself on the largest platform in America,” Trump campaign deputy press secretary Samantha Zager said in a statement to The Hill. “When millions of voters will be making their decisions, the President will be silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia.”

As the election nears, Facebook has faced persistent pressure from Democrats and activists to take action on misinformation shared by Trump. Trump has repeatedly promoted unsubstantiated posts about mail-in voting and has previously said the only way he could lose is if the election is “rigged.”

In early August, Facebook took down a post from Trump’s official page because it contained false information about the coronavirus, marking the first time the company took such a step regarding content shared by the president. 

Much of the scrutiny surrounding Facebook stems from Russia’s attempts to use the platform in 2016 to interfere in U.S. elections.

Zuckerberg said on Thursday that the threat of foreign meddling “hasn’t gone away,” noting earlier this week the company took down a network of 13 accounts and 2 pages associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency. But he noted new domestic threats are emerging. 

“We’re increasingly seeing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections from within our own borders,” he said. “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.”

–Updated 10:21 a.m.

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