Science

Facebook aims to register 4 million voters, let you turn off political ads

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said late Tuesday that the social network is creating a new online voter information center as part of an effort to get 4 million people to register to vote in the 2020 US elections. 

The social network will also let some people turn off all political advertising if they don’t want to see it.

In an op-ed published in USA Today, Zuckerberg said the new center will include details about how and when to vote, voter registration, voting by mail and early voting. More than 160 million people in the US will potentially see this new online hub because it will show up at the top of the Facebook News Feed and on its photo-sharing service Instagram this summer. Information from state and local election officials will appear in the hub.

“The 2020 election is going to be unlike any other. It was already going to be a heated campaign, and that was before the pandemic — and before the killing of George Floyd and so many others forced us yet again to confront the painful reality of systemic racism in America. People want accountability, and in a democracy the ultimate way we do that is through voting,” Zuckerberg said in the op-ed. Facebook is calling it the “largest voting information campaign in American history.”

The campaign underscores Facebook’s efforts to rehabilitate its image ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The company has faced criticism that it hasn’t done enough to combat misinformation, including lies from politicians who are exempt from fact-checking on the platform. During the 2016 US presidential election, Russian trolls also used the social network to sow discord among Americans. 

Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged Facebook to change its mostly hands-off approach to political speech. Biden’s campaign sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking the company to fact-check all political ads two weeks before they’re allowed to run on the platform and fact-check election content that goes viral. Facebook, which says political speech is already heavily scrutinized, said in response that if lawmakers set new rules about campaign ads, it would follow them.

In the meantime, Facebook will let some users who no longer wish to see political ads turn them off. Naomi Gleit, who oversees product management and social impact at Facebook, said in a blog post on Wednesday that the feature rolls out today for some people and will be released to all US users over the next few weeks.

The move comes after the social network said in January that users would be able to see fewer political ads. Its rival Twitter banned political ads last year. Users will be able to turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organizations that have the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them, Gleit said. To access this feature, users will have to go to Facebook or Instagram’s ad settings or click on an ad. Facebook might not catch every political ad so users who turned off political ads can also click on the top right corner of an ad and report it.

Gleit said Facebook aims to make the feature available in certain countries outside of the US where they “have enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics later this fall.” It’s unclear how many countries or users will get this new feature.

The social network makes most of its money from ads, and it seems unlikely that will change in the future. Nick Clegg, who oversees global affairs and communications, said in a press call on Wednesday that a business model that relies on ads means everyone can access the social network. Allowing users to pay a fee to not see all ads, for example, could jeopardize that, he said.

On Wednesday, six civil rights groups called on large Facebook advertisers to boycott the site as part of a new campaign called #StopHateforProfit. The groups, which include the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change, criticized the company for not doing enough to combat hate speech on its platform.

Clegg said the social network doesn’t allow hate speech on its platform, but he acknowledged that the company could do more. He also pushed back against the Trump administration’s plan to curtail the protections that shield online platforms from being liable for content posted by their users, saying it would result in less speech appearing online. 

Clegg said Facebook is trying to “strike the right balance, without sacrificing the safety of our community or the ability of people to express their voice at the polls.”

The company has also faced pushback from its own employees who raised concerns about posts from President Donald Trump they said could incite violence amid protests against police brutality. Facebook’s response differed from that of Twitter, which veiled a tweet from the president about protests in Minnesota, behind a notice that says it violates the company’s rules about “glorifying violence.” Facebook determined that Trump’s controversial remarks, in which he stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” didn’t violate its rules against inciting violence.

In May, Twitter also fact-checked and added a label to Trump’s tweets for containing “potentially misleading information about voting processes.” In the tweets, Trump falsely stated in his tweets that California will send mail-in ballots to “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there” when only registered voters will receive ballot. He also said that there’s no way that mail-in ballots would be “anything less than substantially fraudulent,” a claim debunked by fact-checkers and news outlets.

Facebook didn’t fact-check the same remarks from Trump on its site, Clegg said, because Trump’s comments were directed at state authorities and he was engaged in a debate about mail-in voting versus discouraging people to vote. 

In the op-ed, Zuckerberg stood by the company’s approach to political speech. Voting, he said, was the best way to hold politicians accountable. 

Facebook has helped people to register to vote before. In 2016 and 2018, the company said, it helped more than 2 million people register to vote.

“Everyone wants to see politicians held accountable for what they say — and I know many people want us to moderate and remove more of their content. We have rules against speech that will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is exempt from them. But accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say,” he said. 

One Reply to “Facebook aims to register 4 million voters, let you turn off political ads

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *