Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is concerned about the challenges facing the US Presidential election in November because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
To this end he has announced on Tursday that Facebook will stop accepting new political ads in the week before the US Election Day on 3 November. He said the firm is taking action to reduce the risks of misinformation and election interference.
It comes after Facebook this week dismantled a Russian influence operation after it received a tip off from the FBI.
That campaign was linked to a well known Russian news farm, which is known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA). This is an organisation close to the Russian government and it has been previously accused of interference in the 2016 US election.
Four years later and the United States is now a couple of months away from November’s Presidential election, between US President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Unlike Twitter, which in October last year opted to ban all political advertising on its platform and then began applying (for the first time) a fact-checking disclaimer to the US President’s tweets, Facebook has adopted a much more hands-off approach.
Mark Zuckerberg has consistently said that Facebook would not ban political adverts, but would rather clamp down on false information about voting requirements.
And Zuckerberg was slated last year after he controversially decided Facebook would not fact-check political advertising on the platform.
His position is that he does not want to interfere with freedom of speech.
Facebook also recently said it would label posts by Russian, Chinese and other state-controlled media organisations on its platforms.
In June Facebook announced it will introduce more ‘control and transparency’ for political adverts, and then last month said it was considering various contingency plans, including a “kill switch” that would bar all political advertising after the election takes place on 3 November.
Now in Facebook post, Zuckerberg said the platform will not take on any new political ads in the seven days prior to the US election on 3 November.
“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,” wrote Zuckerberg. “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.”
“We’re going to block new political and issue ads during the final week of the campaign,” he wrote. “It’s important that campaigns can run get out the vote campaigns, and 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.”
“So in the week before the election, we won’t accept new political or issue ads,” he said. “Advertisers will be able to continue running ads they started running before the final week and adjust the targeting for those ads, but those ads will already be published transparently in our Ads Library so anyone, including fact-checkers and journalists, can scrutinize them.”
He also said Facebook would continue to try and get people to vote, and would extend its work with election officials to remove misinformation about voting.
He also said Facebook is reducing the risk of misinformation and harmful content going viral by limiting forwarding on Messenger.
“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,” he concluded. “We’ve voted during global pandemics before. We can do this.”
“But it’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us – political parties and candidates, election authorities, the media and social networks, and ultimately voters as well – to live up to our responsibilities,” he said. “We all have a part to play in making sure that the democratic process works, and that every voter can make their voice heard where it matters most – at the ballot box.”
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