Not Sharing in the Election Excitement: Facebook Bans Political Ads

October 11, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Facebook has announced that it will ban any advertising which “seeks to delegitimise” the upcoming US elections.

What does this mean?

With the US elections only weeks away Facebook has announced that it will prohibit adverts claiming voting fraud and corruption is rife, arguing that such adverts “delegitimise the election.” The social media giant updated its rules on political advertising last week and the changes apply to adverts on both Facebook and Instagram. The move comes after the first US election debate in which President Trump claimed the election was going to be full of “fraud like you’ve never seen”.  

To counter this, Facebook’s Director of Product Management, Rob Leathern, announced, “Last week, we said we’d prohibit ads that make premature declarations of victory. We also won’t allow ads with content that seeks to delegitimise.” This includes adverts from conspiracy groups like QAnon and militarised social groups such as Proud Boys. However, Facebook’s Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, rejected calls to ban all political ads, saying, “We block far more political ads than people appreciate”.

What's the big picture effect?

This decision comes as a surprise since CEO Mark Zuckerberg has on many occasions refused to change Facebook’s advertising policy as he believed the company should “not be the arbiter of truth.” So why the change? One doubts this is a covert excuse for Zuck to take down all those memes about him. More likely is that Facebook is trying to distance itself from recent attacks. This follows the well-known news that in 2016 the Trump campaign used Facebook ads to target voters in a tactic it called “Deterrence.” This is a method to discourage voting and was done using data gathered by the controversial consultancy Cambridge Analytica. 

Postal voting is not a new phenomenon in the US, but the Coronavirus pandemic means far more people will now vote by post in the upcoming election.  Consequently, social media giants stand at the crossroads. They could go down the route Facebook and Google have chosen, i.e. to  ban political advertising. The other option is censoring user content, in the manner Twitter has recently been using against the President. The reason for these approaches? Tech CEOs seemingly want to avoid another marathon congressional grilling, which put Silicon Valley on edge this summer. 

The big question which remains is has the horse already bolted? Fake news has already spread unchecked for years. Facebook announcing these new policies does not answer the question of whether the social media giants are doing enough. With the election already becoming one of the most litigious on record, perhaps this move is an attempt by Facebook to prevent itself from becoming embroiled in lawsuits to come. The question is, will it work?

Report written by Michael Johnson

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