Facebook to ban new political ads in week before US election

Facebook to ban new political ads in week before US election

Facebook said on Thursday it will ban new political advertising the week before the US election, one of its most sweeping moves against disinformation yet as CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned of a "risk of civil unrest" after the vote.

In this file photo Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in a 'Conversation on Free Expression" in Washington, DC on October 17, 2019. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has defended his decision not to interfere with posts by US P

The social media giant also vowed to fact check any premature claims of victory, stating that if a candidate tries to declare himself the winner before final votes are tallied "we'll add a label to their posts directing people to the official results."

And it promised to "add an informational label" to any content seeking to delegitimize the results or claim that "lawful voting methods" will lead to fraud.

The moves follow broad criticism of Facebook's handling of the 2016 presidential election, when it failed to restrict disinformation from Russian operatives that spread conspiracy theories and discouraged voting in some cases.

The new policy comes as the US gears up for what is expected to be a bruising campaign season against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests for racial justice that have led to violent conflict in some cities between civil rights groups and armed right-wing vigilantes.

Progressive groups offered measured praise for the announcement.

"Facebook's announcements about policing voting misinformation, including politicians, and defending a fair election are significant improvements and come after much pressure from civil rights community," said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

"But everything -- any impact -- rests on enforcement. We'll remain vigilant."

But Tom Fitton, president of conservative activist group Judicial Watch, condemned the move.

"RIGGED? Facebook further caves to the Left and will suppress 'new' ads in the week before the election," Fitton said on Twitter. 

"This is a breathtaking effort to control what FB users see at a crucial time and raises First Amendment concerns. President Trump should direct the DOJ to investigate."

- Old ads not affected -

Zuckerberg has long favored a largely hands-off approach to candidate statements, saying in Thursday's post that "I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech."

But he said a new policy was needed for last-minute ads.

"But in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims," said Zuckerberg.

He added that the restrictions do not affect political ads posted more than a week before Election Day that have given opposing candidates enough opportunity to rebut inaccurate information.

Democrats have long warned that President Donald Trump and his supporters may try to sow chaos with false claims on November 3. 

The US remains the epicenter of the world's worst coronavirus outbreak, and voters are expected to shift to mail-in voting, with an estimated three-quarters of the population eligible to do so. 

As a result officials are warning that the final tally may not be revealed until well after voting day -- spurring fears that paranoia and rumor-mongering could hit an all-time high.

Trump -- a prolific user of social media who is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the polls -- has recently hurtled down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories filled with claims that he is victim of a coup and/or plans to rig the polls.

Almost daily, he claims that increased mail-in voting is a gambit to "rig" the election against him, and he has refused to say whether he will accept the results. 

On Wednesday night, he drew additional scrutiny for encouraging voters in North Carolina to vote twice, which is illegal.

Trump has also opposed more funding for the cash-strapped US Postal Service (USPS), acknowledging the money would be used to help process ballots.

And he has refused to condemn the presence of armed vigilantes in the streets during a wave of social justice protests across America this summer, spurring fears of unrest if there is not a clear result immediately after November 3. 

Opponents say Trump's increasingly extreme resistance to expanded mail-in voting -- a method already used widely in the United States -- is an attempt to suppress voter turnout, while setting up an excuse to challenge the result if he is defeated.

Zuckerberg, in an interview with CBS on Thursday, said he was concerned with efforts to undermine the election with false claims about voting.

"I think anyone who is saying the election is going to be fraudulent, I think that's problematic," Zuckerberg said in the interview. 

"I think additional context needs to be added to that."

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