Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg today announced it will allow users to turn off political adverts in the run-up to the US presidential election, closing what critics have described as a glaring loophole in the firm’s transparency efforts.
Writing in American newspaper USA Today, Zuckerberg said the social media giant would let users mute political, electoral and social issue adverts from candidates and organisations that use the Paid For political disclaimer.
“For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you — so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads,” the Facebook chief wrote.
The world’s largest social platform will also roll out a new Voting Information Center, providing users on both Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary with details on registering to vote, polling locations and postal votes. Zuckerberg said the company aimed to rally 4m people to register to vote this year, doubling its goal at the last presidential election in 2016.
The move is part of Facebook’s plan to combat fake news and foresign interference in the November election, following pressure from Democratic nominee Joe Biden for Facebook to scrap its policy to exempt political ads from fact-checking.
Facebook has met stiff criticism from both sides of the Atlantic in recent years for refusing to take down adverts from politicians that contain false information.
Facebook began attaching Paid For disclaimers to political adverts in 2018, following heavy backlash that the platform had failed to stop Russian interference in the 2016 election. But a loophole meant the Paid For label disappeared if people shared the post to their own feeds, allowing misinformation to proliferate.
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has remained a vocal critic of the loophole, warning that it could negatively influence the upcoming election.
Similar fears played out in the UK ahead of last year’s General Election, when the BBC’s demands for Facebook to remove a paid advert from the Conservatives’ Facebook page, which purported to show BBC executives decrying a “pointless delay to Brexit”, were rebuffed.
Speaking on BBC’s Today programme this morning, Facebook vice president and former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the company was committed to transparency, and had already removed “a number of ads from Donald Trump”.
It comes after the company faced scrutiny for refusing to take down a post by the US President that said “When the lootin’ starts, the shootin’ starts”, while rival company Twitter removed the post for “inciting violence”. Several Facebook executives resigned over the decision.
The move marks a sharp U-turn for Zuckerberg, who defended the company’s decision not to remove political advertising as recently as December, saying: “I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
Today, Zuckerberg said: “I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of colour — but to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration, and turnout.”