Facebook will ban new political ads during the week leading up to the general election on November 3, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday.
“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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a memo to Facebook staff. “I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”
The move comes amid clashes between the Trump administration and Democrats over voting by mail, President Trump saying he opposes widespread voting by mail over concerns it could be a breeding ground for election fraud. Democrats, by contrast, have encouraged voters to cast their ballots by mail, citing coronavirus concerns.
The mammoth social media company will also remove posts on its platform that Facebook deems attempts to suppress or discourage voting, such as posts claiming voters will catch the coronavirus if they vote in person —and will work to prevent campaigns and supporters from claiming victory prematurely.
“This election is not going to be business as usual,” Zuckerberg’s note to staff read. “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.”
Last year, Facebook announced efforts to tighten its rules on political advertising ahead of the 2020 elections, in an attempt to crack down on election interference after insidious actors ran rampant on the platform in 2016.
During the 2016 election, Facebook came under fire from critics who charged the social media platform with negligence for allowing Russian actors, among others, to spread misinformation and attempt to sow discord on the site. The company ramped up efforts to combat election meddling during the 2018 midterm elections.
Facebook has removed dozens of accounts on Facebook and Instagram originating in Russia and Iran that targeted the U.S. as well as accounts apparently run by the Chinese government as part of an effort to confuse and disrupt pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The company has pledged to continue to advance its technology, hire more employees, and work with law-enforcement and security experts ahead of the upcoming elections.