With only a few months to go for the US Presidential Elections, Facebook has announced that yet another austerity measure. The company says, that it will not receive any new political advertisements during the last week before the elections. The move is aimed to reducing voter suppression and discouragement to voting caused by misleading content. Of course, it goes without saying that Facebook’s own image needs some serious correction, and hence the move.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited potential political unrest across the country during the US elections as one of the reasons to make this move. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the election this year is expected to be conducted by sending in mail-in votes. This would cause a delay in the announcement of the results, and hence increases chances of possible clashes. We have already witnessed how violent, clashes in the US have grown in previous days.
This announcement was part of a series of steps that Facebook has taken to address the issue that the platform can be used to influence the election. Another one of those steps is the introduction of a ‘Voter Information Center’ at the top of both Facebook and Instagram feeds. This new feature will provide voters with essential information such as how to vote and live election results in partnership with Reuters. This new feature will also help educate voters about the new voting process and try to remove the fear of voting during a pandemic.
Moreover, Facebook will extensively act on posts that spread misinformation regarding voting and COVID-19 or those that try to discourage voters from voting. It will also add links to information sources on posts that wrongfully declare the results of the election. It has also implemented restrictions on number of forwards made to 5 per message on its Messenger app, similar to Whatsapp. Facebook will work with the election officials to identify these kinds of posts and act on them.
The Facebook boss said, “The U.S. elections are just two months away, and with Covid-19 affecting communities across the country, I’m concerned about the challenges people could face when voting.” He added, “This election is not going to be business as usual. Since the pandemic means that many of us will be voting by mail, and since some states may still be counting valid ballots after election day, many experts are predicting that we may not have a final result on election night.”
Facebook looks to make up for the bad reputation it gained after the 2016 US election when it was accused of helping severely manipulate the outcome of the elections, leasing to an unexpected Trump victor. This has not changed in the recent times as the Democrats believe, Donald Trump led Republicans will try to cast doubt regarding the mail-in voting system and delay the election results in the process using the platform.