Facebook to block new political ads in week before presidential election

Facebook will stop accepting new political advertisements in the week before November’s presidential election in an attempt to clamp down on misinformation.

The move is one of several steps Facebook will take to combat voter suppression and protect the integrity of a contentious vote held amid the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday.

“This election is not going to be business as usual,” Zuckerberg wrote in a lengthy post on his Facebook profile. “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy.”

Facebook has previously taken a laissez-faire approach to political advertising and allowed politicians to make false claims in their ads. But Zuckerberg expressed concern that candidates could make bogus statements without significant pushback so close to Election Day.

Facebook will still allow campaigns to run ads they placed before the final week and adjust how they are targeted, but Zuckerberg noted that they will have already been published in the platform’s public ad library “so anyone, including fact-checkers and journalists, can scrutinize them.”

The social-media titan will also combat attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election in which many Americans are expected to vote by mail because of coronavirus-related health concerns, Zuckerberg said.

Posts from candidates declaring victory in a race before all the votes are counted will be slapped with a label stipulating that the official results are not in yet, Zuckerberg said. Facebook will also attach labels to content that aims to “delegitimize” the election’s outcome or that discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, including posts “claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud,” he added.

“Many experts are predicting that we may not have a final result on election night,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s important that we prepare for this possibility in advance and understand that there could be a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted.”

Facebook was quick add such a label to a Thursday morning post from President Trump urging his followers to send in their mail ballots early to make sure they’re counted. Trump has repeatedly made false claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud.

“Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the US and the same is predicted this year,” the label reads.

Facebook’s new approach brings it more in line with Twitter, which added fact-checking labels in May to Trump’s posts assailing mail-in voting.  Zuckerberg criticized that move at the time, saying social media platforms shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth.”

The billionaire tech tycoon appeared to walk that back Thursday when he suggested that posts making false claims of fraud should indeed be fact-checked.

“I certainly think that anyone who’s saying that the election is going to be fraudulent, I think that that’s problematic,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.”  “And I think additional context needs to be added to that.”

Facebook will also remove content containing misinformation about voting, including posts that claim people will get COVID-19 if they vote, along with those that make “implicit misrepresentations” that could mislead people about the process, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook will enforce its new policies using a combination of artificial intelligence and human review, company spokeswoman Andrea Vallone said.

Facebook shares tumbled after Zuckerberg’s announcement and were down about 5.1 percent at $286.97 as of 1:04 p.m.

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