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Facebook Halts New Political Ads in Election Integrity Push

The social media company announced a slew of new efforts on its platform to curb misinformation and post-election confusion. The changes come after harsh criticism of its response to problems during the 2016 elections.

by Douglas Hook, MassLive.com / September 3, 2020
Shutterstock/Anikei

(TNS) — Facebook announced a series of measures it says is to secure the integrity of the US elections by encouraging voting, connecting people to authoritative information and reducing the risks of post-election confusion. The most notable of these changes will be the banning of new political ads from the platform a week before the presidential elections in November.

“Today, we’re announcing additional steps we’re taking at Facebook to encourage voting, connect people with authoritative information and fight misinformation,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “These changes reflect what we’ve learned from our elections work over the past four years and the conversations we’ve had with voting rights experts and our civil rights auditors.”

The social media group has been accused of facilitating the spread of misinformation that has plagued elections. During the 2016 election, many feared that fake news articles spread on Facebook, among others, swayed the results of the election with over 11.4 million American users exposed, according to the 2018 report by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller.

“[I]t’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg stated before a joint Senate Committee in April 2018. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

A study suggests that social media plays a larger role in bringing people to fake news sites than it plays in bringing them to real news sites. More than 40 percent of visits to 65 fake news sites come from social media, compared to around 10 percent of visits to 690 top US news sites, according to a 2017 study by researchers from NYU and Stanford.

One of the culprits in the 2016 presidential election is the Russian backed Internet Research Agency. In 2018, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for engaging in operations to interfere with U.S. electoral processes, including the 2016 presidential election.

“I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims. So in the week before the election, we won’t accept new political or issue ads,” Zuckerberg said.

The Internet Research Agency is trying it again through ads pushing voters away from the Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden and toward President Donald J. Trump.

“Four years ago we encountered a new threat: coordinated online efforts by foreign governments and individuals to interfere in our elections,” said Zuckerberg. “This threat hasn’t gone away. Just this week, we took down a network of 13 accounts and 2 pages that were trying to mislead Americans and amplify division. We’ve invested heavily in our security systems and now have some of the most sophisticated teams and systems in the world to prevent these attacks.”

Zuckerberg added that his company has removed more than 100 networks worldwide engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior over the past couple of years, including ahead of major democratic elections.

“However, we’re increasingly seeing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections from within our own borders,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook is going to partner with the news agency Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide authoritative information about election results and flag any candidate or campaign that tries to declare victory before the results come in.

The social media mogul also stressed that Facebook has strengthened enforcement against militias, conspiracy networks and other groups that could be used to organize violence or civil unrest in the period after the elections.

Zuckerberg specifically called out conspiracy group QAnon that has caused issues for various individuals and groups with false claims and rumor.

The group caused havoc earlier in the year after a baseless conspiracy theory took off after an anonymous user posted a question in an Internet chatroom: “What if retail giant Wayfair is using pricey storage cabinets to traffic children?”

As a result a national human trafficking hotline suddenly began taking calls about the imagined Wayfair scheme, stretching its resources.

A woman said she posted a video of herself on Facebook to counter false claims that she was missing. One mother’s pleas to Facebook and YouTube to remove a video of her young daughter that was being used to suggest she was a Wayfair victim went unanswered for days.

“We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service,” Twitter said in a statement.

Facebook and Twitter have long been attempting to remove and crackdown on the group’s presence on their platforms.

“I believe our democracy is strong enough to withstand this challenge and deliver a free and fair election, even if it takes time for every vote to be counted,” said Zuckerberg. “We can do this. But it’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us, political parties and candidates, election authorities, the media and social networks, and ultimately voters as well.”

“This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Zuckerberg said.

©2020 MassLive.com, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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