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Facebook Moves to Target Misinformation Before Election

With just two months left until the U.S. presidential election, Facebook says it is taking more steps to encourage voting, minimize misinformation and reduce the likelihood of post-election "civil unrest."

(CN) — With Election Day just two months away, Facebook announced Thursday it would be taking new steps to combat misinformation and attempts to interfere in the election on its platform, including banning political ads for the week leading up to Nov. 3.

In recent years, Facebook and other social media companies have come under intense scrutiny over how they manage the rampant spread of misinformation on their platforms. Such pushback has been largely focused on how companies like Facebook have responded to misleading advertisements or false statements made by political figures on social media, as well as how those companies reacted to election meddling efforts by the Russians.

In response to these criticisms — and after some encouragement from experts — Facebook announced Thursday it will adopt a series of new policies to help better regulate and stamp out misinformation on its platform, which has more than 2.7 billion monthly active users around the world.

Among the most notable changes is that the social media giant will not accept any new political ads during the week leading up to the election. Candidates can still run existing ads and can even change how they are targeted to users, but new advertising content will be barred during that period.

The reason, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is that Facebook may not have enough time to check and respond to false political messaging before it’s too late.

"It's important that campaigns can run get out the vote campaigns, and I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Thursday. "But in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims."

The company also announced it will crack down on any false information related to voting policies or procedures and the Covid-19 pandemic, with the company warning posts or content containing misinformation would be swiftly removed.

In an effort to help further prevent the spread of lies or misleading content on the social media platform, Facebook will also restrict how users share articles. Under the new guidelines, Facebook users can only forward an article to five other users through Messenger, Facebook’s messaging app.

Facebook also announced that it would be implementing some new procedures for how to operate during Election Day itself.

The company said that it plans to partner with Reuters to provide live and official election results to users as the votes are counted. Users can even get Facebook push notifications on their devices that will alert to them election tallies, according to the company.

While these votes are being counted, Facebook said that it also plans to carefully watch for any political candidate who may be attempting to spike the football early. The company said it will apply a warning label to any post made by a political candidate that claims victory before the official vote count supports that assertion.  

Facebook will also flag content that attempts to delegitimize the results once they have been made official — a move stemming from President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts in recent months to convince voters the election results will be untrustworthy, claims that have so far been derided as unsubstantiated.

Zuckerberg said the new measures are very much a product of their time, intended to help protect an election in a year marred by uncertainly and changing norms. 

“This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Zuckerberg said. “That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”

Facebook’s announcement has already incurred varied responses across the board, including from the Trump campaign’s deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager. Zager said the new restrictions will make it impossible for the president to defend himself during such a critical time in the campaign.

Others, however, have suggested that while the new policies may be well intentioned, enforcement of them may prove challenging. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a Facebook expert at the University of Virginia, said he is not convinced Facebook will be able to maintain these new polices on the massive scale the platform commands.

“Facebook’s biggest problem has always been enforcement,” Vaidhyanathan told the Los Angeles Times. “Even when it creates reasonable policies that seem well-meaning, it gets defeated by its own scale. So I am not optimistic that this will be terribly effective.”

Regardless of how these new measures pan out, one thing seems to be certain; they are only temporary. According to a CNN report, Facebook said it has no plans to maintain these new restrictions once Election Day has come and gone.

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