Facebook has buckled to sustained pressure and will stop accepting new political ads ahead of the US presidential election. The move may have its critics, however, as the ban will only be implemented a week before the 3 November election – and there are additional nuances.
New campaigns from candidates and committees will not be accepted in that final week, reminiscent of ’emailgate’ accusations that belaboured the Clinton campaign late in the last cycle. Ads that have received at least one impression before 27 October will, however, be able to continue running.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has previously said the company will not fact-check – and potentially remove contentious political ad – using free speech as a shield. Many of the moves announced today add extra actionable points to that hardline stance.
Facebook’s role in election misinformation has long been raised by critics, and the platform’s sheer scale and power has caused concern that it could sway an election with the right interference and ad buys.
So, does the compromise do enough for it to avoid previous missteps? Here’s what you need to know about the move.
Two months out from the election, Zuckerberg has cited concerns around Covid-19 and division in the US, and about the postal vote playing such an important role in the election, meaning it could take days to count results. He said: “I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”
With President Trump refusing to say whether he would respect the results of the election, and the nation having already seen its share of violence and protest, Facebook has taken steps to reduce misinformation at the hot point of the election.
Twitter has banned all political ads on its platform, and such ads comprise just a slither of Facebook’s ad revenue. Facebook is not going all-in with a ban, but is looking to minimise risk.
What it means
This time around, Facebook users have the ability to opt-out of political ads.
It will remove posts that claim people will get Covid-19 if they take part in voting and it will link posts seen to be discouraging voting through to “authoritative information about the coronavirus“.
Facebook will attach an informational label to content that “seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods“.
And finally, if any candidate “tries to declare victory before the final results are in“, it will direct readers to official polls from Reuters and the National Election Pool.
Facebook Messenger will be restricted to five shares per link to slow the spread of misinformation in huge, invisible groups. WhatsApp already has this feature implemented.
In short, Facebook is anticipating a historically messy election. However, it will still try to drive voter registrations. In the last election, it claimed to have sent 24m clicks to registration websites.
Facebook recently showed its hand on how it enforces its community policies when it detailed how it had navigated extra difficulties during the pandemic.
Catch up with each campaign’s line of attack here in our election summary.