Facebook Attempts to Curb Election Disinformation and Post-Election Day Confusion and Violence - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Facebook Attempts to Curb Election Disinformation and Post-Election Day Confusion and Violence

Facebook Attempts to Curb Election Disinformation and Post-Election Day Confusion and Violence

Facebook has announced new measures in response to the increasing concern that Election Day will erupt into violence and as part of its continued efforts to avoid a repeat of its role in the 2016 presidential election in which Russian operatives used Facebook to spread disinformation and try to influence the American electorate to vote for Donald Trump.1 Facebook executives have reportedly held meetings to discuss Trump’s refusal to answer whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power and have met with civil rights groups since Trump’s invitation to the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”2 As a result, Facebook has prohibited all new political advertisements in the week before the election, banned posts that aim to suppress or mislead voters, and announced that it will ban announcements on its site purporting to announce the election results before a victor has been declared by certain news outlets, including Reuters and the Associated Press.3

Facebook’s ban on new political ads went into effect on Tuesday, October 27, and problems with implementation of its policy surfaced almost immediately.4 Under the new rules, Facebook permitted political advertising to run after Tuesday, October 27 only if the ads were purchased by the end of the day on Monday, October 26, so both campaigns purchased a significant amount of advertising over the weekend.5 Nevertheless, Facebook mistakenly blocked many ads that had been purchased before the Monday night deadline.6 On Tuesday, Facebook said it had removed ads that both the Trump and Biden campaigns had purchased before the ban went into effect, claiming the ads could mislead voters in states where early voting had not started. Trump’s controversial ads, announcing that “Election Day is Today,” told people to “vote today.”7 Facebook claimed that the ads could mislead voters in states where voting was not currently open.8 Both campaigns have criticized Facebook’s actions. Advertisers for both campaigns claimed that Facebook incorrectly banned some ads and permitted others that were misleading.9 The Biden campaign’s digital director Rob Flaherty tweeted that Facebook’s new rules were a “performative pre-election hoop-jumping exercise.”10

Facebook’s new policies include measures designed to decrease Facebook’s role in any election and post-Election Day disinformation and violence. Facebook’s ban on political advertising extends to ads placed after the polls close on November 3 and continues for an undetermined period of time.11 Facebook also announced that it plans to remove any posts that ask people to engage in poll watching and use “militarized language” or otherwise suggest that the goal is voter intimidation.12 Facebook has also banned the candidates from claiming victory until the outcome has been announced by certain news media, including Reuters and the Associated Press.13 Instead, Facebook intends to place notifications at the top of its News Feed informing people that no winner had yet been decided.14 Facebook also announced that it will ban any ads that question or attempt to mislead people about the legitimacy of the election.15

  1. See Prohibited Ads About Social Issues, Elections or Politics in the United States and Information on the 2020 Restriction Period, Facebook (last updated Oct. 30, 2020),  https://www.facebook.com/business/help/253606115684173 [https://perma.cc/ZXB3-Z4WF] (last visited Nov. 1, 2020) [hereinafter Prohibited Ads]; see also Mike Isaac, Facebook Widens Ban on Political Ads as Alarm Rises Over Election, N.Y. Times (Oct. 7, 2020) (last updated Oct. 22, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/technology/facebook-political-ads-ban.html [https://perma.cc/Q99C-R9JT].

  2. Isaac, supra note 1.

  3. Id.; see also Prohibited Ads, supra note 1.

  4. See Rachel Lerman and Cat Zakrzewski, Facebook Ban on New Political Ads Starts Off with Major Hiccups, Wash. Post (Oct. 27, 2020, 8: 29 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/10/27/facebook-ban-new-political-ads/ [https://perma.cc/6B7L-VY9K].

  5. Id.

  6. Sheera Frenkel, Facebook Removes Trump and Biden Ads, Saying They Could Mislead Voters, N.Y. Times, Oct. 27, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/27/technology/facebook-removes-trump-and-biden-ads-saying-they-could-mislead-voters.html [ https://perma.cc/M43P-4KZS].

  7. Jessica Guynn, Trump Campaign ‘Election Day is Today’ Ads Removed by Facebook, USA Today (Oct. 27, 2020 8:25 PM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/10/27/facebook-trump-campaign-election-day-ads-removed/3755255001/[https://perma.cc/QW9E-ZJ9D].

  8. Frenkel, supra note 6.

  9. Lerman & Zakrzewski, supra note 4.

  10. Rob Flaherty (@Rob_Flaherty), Twitter (Oct. 27, 2020, 9:51 AM), https://twitter.com/Rob_Flaherty/status/1321087171542003714 [https://perma.cc/XTA6-QF9S].

  11. Political Ads, supra note 1.

  12. David Ingram, Facebook Bans ‘Militarized’ Calls for Poll Watching During Election, NBC News (Oct. 7, 2020, 5:33 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/facebook-bans-militarized-calls-poll-watching-during-election-n1242477 [https://perma.cc/3DEQ-2UDK].

  13. Isaac, supra note 1.

  14. Id.

  15. Id.

Conor Goetz

Conor Goetz is a second year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. He is the President of the Fordham Information Law Society and Secretary of Fordham’s National Security Association. He holds a B.A. in History from Columbia University.