In the week before the American presidential elections it is not allowed to place new political advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. This decision follows after almost a year of social pressure to do something about political advertisements in which politicians spread factual inaccuracies.
At the same time, the measure is likely to have a limited effect. Anyone who starts an advertising campaign before the ban can simply let it continue until after the elections. Those advertisements will not be monitored either. However, they do appear in the so-called advertising library, which, according to Facebook, makes it possible to refute claims. It remains to be seen whether the dissenting voices are then also seen by users who saw the advertising message earlier.
Worried about division
Zuckerberg says he is concerned that because his country is so divided, and the final election results may take days or even weeks, the social unrest will only get worse. For this reason, the top man has taken a number of measures. The temporary banning of political advertisements stands out the most. One of the other measures is to put information about the elections at the top of the timelines of Facebook and Instagram, including instructions on how to vote by post.
It is expected that many people will vote by mail because of the pandemic. Zuckerberg says that Facebook is preparing for the fact that claims about the result can be made before it is completely in. Messages from candidates proclaiming themselves winners before there is an official result will be labeled with a comment about this.
Criticism for some time now
Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political ads was taken in October last year and has been criticised ever since. “We think people should see for themselves what politicians say. And if the content is newsworthy, we won’t take it offline, even if it contradicts our guidelines,” said Zuckerberg in a speech last year. Twitter decided last year to ban political ads altogether and Google is limiting its reach (targeting).
That same month criticism came from Facebook’s own ranks. 250 employees, a fraction of the total workforce (35,000 employees), signed an open letter to the top man. They expressed their concern that this decision nullified the “good steps” that had been taken in the area of integrity. This did not help, Facebook confirmed the decision at the beginning of January this year, after reviewing it internally.