November’s U.S. presidential election could be contentious. Analysts predict late results and possible “civil unrest.” In response, social media giant Facebook is working to ensure its platform isn’t used to sow chaos and spread misinformation.
Facebook says it will prohibit politicians and campaigns from running new ads in the week before the election. However, they can still run existing ads and change how they are targeted.
Posts with obvious misinformation on voting policies and the coronavirus pandemic will be removed. The company will also work to provide official election results and make the information widely available.
“We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says. “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.”
Of course, there’s also the issue of allowing “no corrupting talk [to] come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up”! (Ephesians 4:29)
Some activists hailed Facebook’s new policies but say the company must enforce them. Others are skeptical the changes will make a difference.
For example, many voters are expected to vote by mail well ahead of Election Day. “Election Day isn’t in two months; it’s tomorrow and every day after. Which means voters . . . [who] vote early will be subject to months of dishonest ads on Facebook’s platform,” says Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, a women’s organization critical of Facebook.
She calls the announcement a “PR stunt.” Thomas believes Facebook is a primary carrier “of dangerous misinformation and voter suppression.”
Facebook expert Siva Vaidhyanathan says, “Even when [Facebook] creates reasonable policies that seem well-meaning, it gets defeated by its own scale. So I am not optimistic that this will be terribly effective.”
Civil rights groups directly asked Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives to make many of the changes.
Joan Donovan, a disinformation researcher at Harvard University, calls the action “a huge about-face for Facebook.” She says, “For so long they said they were unwilling to moderate political speech and now at this stage they are drawing very sharp lines, and I think that’s because their company cannot survive another four-year scandal.”
(The logo for Facebook at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)