Oct 7, 2020 - Technology

Facebook says it will block political ads after polls close on Election Day

Illustration of a blue flag with the Facebook "f" logo on it
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook says it plans to temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral, or political ads in the U.S. after the polls close on November 3.

Why it matters: The notice comes two weeks after Google informed its advertisers that it would implement a similar rule.

Details: Facebook says the goal of the new policy is to reduce opportunities for public confusion about results or messages that misinform the public about election outcomes.

  • Facebook says advertisers can expect this ban to last for a week, although the timeline is subject to change.
  • It says it will notify advertisers when the new policy is lifted. (For context, Google says it will take at least 7 days for its political ad ban to be lifted after election day, thanks to the likelihood that election results will take longer to tally thanks to pandemic-driven absentee ballots.)

The company says it will also update its policies to ban implicit calls by users to engage in malicious "poll watching" — visiting a polling place to intimidate voters.

  • In the past, says Monika Bickert, Facebook's VP of content policy, Facebook had banned explicit calls for such behavior.
  • It's now banning posts that "use militarized language" or "suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters."
  • Bickert says her team will be looking at this type of content and making decisions about it. She says Facebook has been looking at this policy update for many months.

The big picture: Facebook has incrementally made updates to its political advertising policies leading up to election day.

  • In September, the company said it would not allow ads that prematurely claim victory or attempt to delegitimize the election.
  • Earlier that month, it said it would place restrictions on new political and issue ads the final week of the campaign,

On Wednesday, Facebook's VP of integrity Guy Rosen explained why the new policy has been introduced so late and after the company said it likely wouldn't be amending any more policies related to the election.

  • "We're still going through planning and understanding of different scenarios drawing on learnings from different elections, and scenario planning continues to be underway. We thought it would be appropriate to introduce new measures as we head into the final stretch and we think about the period after the election itself."

Be smart: Civil rights groups have argued that Facebook has not been quick enough to take action on misinformation and abuse on its platform compared to its rivals.

  • Facebook has pushed back on that, saying that it's "simply untrue."
  • In Wednesday's announcements, Facebook aimed to keep peace with those groups, saying, "We thank the civil rights experts and community members who continue to help us understand trends in this area and we look forward to continuing to work with them."
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