Facebook announced the new feature as it touted the launch of a new U.S. voter-registration drive — under which it hopes to sign up 4 million voters this year using Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. That’s double the estimated 2 million people Facebook says it helped register in both 2018 and 2016.
Starting Wednesday, some Facebook and Instagram users in the U.S. will be able to “turn off all social issue, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organizations that have the ‘Paid for by’ political disclaimer on them,” Naomi Gleit, VP of product management and social impact, wrote in a blog post.
The company plans to roll out the political ad opt-out feature to all U.S. users over the next few weeks, and “we’ll aim to make it available in countries where we have enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics later this fall,” according to Gleit.
In addition, Facebook will now include “paid for by” disclaimers on political ads that users share; previously, the disclaimer did not appear on those posts, which caused “confusion about whether the share was an ad or not,” Gleit noted.
It’s not clear whether the moves will defuse complaints over Facebook’s refusal to fact-check info in political advertising, a policy that has drawn fire from critics including Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. In contrast to Facebook’s hands-off approach, Twitter last year said it would ban all political advertising. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” CEO Jack Dorsey wrote last October.
Facebook and Zuckerberg also have been criticized — inside and outside the company — for deciding to take no action on inflammatory comments by Donald Trump. In May 29 posts, Trump called Minneapolis demonstrators “THUGS” and said about the unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Twitter placed a warning label in front of the same post, saying it glorified violence; Zuckerberg later said Facebook is reviewing its content-moderation policies.
Facebook said its new Voting Information Center will provide “authoritative” information about elections, including how to register to vote, voter eligibility, how to request an absentee or mail-in ballot, and local election alerts about changes to the voting process. The new voting section is modeled on Facebook’s COVID-19 information hub. Facebook said it’s working with state election officials and experts to ensure the Voting Information Center accurately reflects the latest information in each state.
The company projects that more than 160 million people in the U.S. will see information on Facebook about how to vote in the general election from July through November.
“I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of color — but also to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration and turnout,” Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a USA Today op-ed.
The social-media company claims it continues to battle misinformation aimed at skewing U.S. elections, which became a huge issue in the wake of the 2016 election. According to Zuckerberg, Facebook took down more than 50 networks of malicious accounts in 2019 and has removed 18 so far this year.
Facebook also is expanding its Ad Library to let users see ad spending for U.S. House and Senate campaigns, in addition to spending for presidential candidates. As part of that, it is creating a custom tracker to compare spending of advertisers running political or issue ads.
Separately, Facebook said Tuesday that it deleted 500 Facebook accounts and more than 300 Instagram accounts linked to far-right groups the Proud Boys and American Guard over hate-speech violations, after it removed some 200 accounts associated with hate groups last week.