Hey, have you guys heard that there’s an election coming up? It’s an important one!
It’s also one of the more divisive ones that most of us can probably remember. There’s definitely a lot of blame to go around for how divisive it’s become. But after the outcome of the 2016 election, lots of folks were pointing their fingers at Facebook for its role in the spread of misinformation, international interference, and a general lack of oversight of what was happening on its platform.
This time around, the social media giant seems a bit more determined to get it right. It’s been a bumpy road along the way. As we approach the final stretch, there’s still lots going on over at Facebook HQ. It’s important to stay informed of these ongoings both as advertisers on this platform and as participants in the democratic process.
So here are some things you should know:
Fake news! What is there to do about it? This summer, a group of companies joined the #StopHateForProfit boycott and suspended their advertising efforts on the platform to protest its handling of fake news and hate speech. While many of the companies have since returned to the platform and the boycott wasn’t exactly devastating to Facebook’s bottom line, the impact on its reputation had become apparent.
In the past, Mark Zuckerberg had always stressed a hands-off approach to free speech and posts from the president specifically. In response to the boycotts, he doubled down on this approach, saying: “We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue.“
In response to misinformation, conspiracies, and hate speech, some recent actions have spoken louder than these words.
Bans, Bans, & More Bans
Over the past couple of weeks, Facebook has been swinging the ban hammer with Thor-like strength. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the most significant groups that have been hit:
- QAnon Conspiracy Theorists: QAnon is a far-right conspiracy group that basically believes the world is run by an elite group of pedophiles in government and Hollywood who also run a global sex trafficking ring. Their theory is that Donald Trump has big plans for a “day of reckoning” on which he will tear this whole system down. In August, Facebook swept the platform of nearly 1,000 QAnon groups that contained violent content. Last week, they finished the job and banned QAnon content altogether.
- Holocaust Deniers: For whatever reason, there are people out there who deny the Holocaust ever happened. In fact, in an announcement this week, Facebook cited a survey that states almost a quarter of American adults aged 18-39 believe that it was either a myth or exaggerated. In the same announcement, Facebook stated “we are updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”
This has been years in the making. Having personally engaged with @Facebook on the issue, I can attest the ban on Holocaust Denial is a big deal. Whether it's @ADL & #StopHateForProfit's insistence, #NoDenyingIt-it doesn't matter. Glad it finally happened. https://t.co/Yc2idnv33u
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) October 12, 2020
- Anti-Vaxxers: Also this week, Facebook announced a ban on ads that discourage people from getting vaccinations or portray vaccines as unsafe. The key word here is “ads.” As of now, it appears that regular anti-vaxxer content without money behind it will still be allowed.
- Armed Militias: Last week, you may have heard about a plot by a far-right militia to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The FBI was able to thwart the effort. They also found that Facebook seemed to be the communications platform of choice for their group. In the same blog post that announced the platform’s initial QAnon sweep, Facebook also announced an impending crackdown on these types of “Militarized Social Movements.”
- Troll Farms: Last but not least is everyone’s favorite: Trolls. Also last week, Facebook announced another ban on what they referred to as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” As an example, conservative youth organization Turning Point USA was coordinating a campaign in which they were basically creating tons of fake accounts to comment on and manipulate the discourse on the posts of some of the larger news organizations.
In addition to banning content and ads from these groups, Facebook is also placing a temporary ban on political ads following the election. More on that below.
Political Advertising FYIs
Since the 2016 election, Facebook rolled out an authorization process for political advertisers to “ensure transparency and authenticity in political ads.” The process includes things like submitting an ID, address, and disclosing who is paying for the ads. This is all old news at this point, but there are a few new restrictions Facebook has rolled out that are specific to those placing political ads over the next few weeks.
This morning Mark announced our latest efforts related to the U.S. elections, which are designed to help encourage voting, ensure people have accurate info about voting, and help reduce confusion and post-election uncertainty: https://t.co/BaGkItq0A1
— Facebook (@Facebook) September 3, 2020
First and foremost, political advertisers should expect that Facebook will not accept new ads in the week leading up to the election. They announced a “Restriction Period” between October 27th at 12:01 AM PT through November 3rd at 11:59 PM PT. Ads can be run and adjusted during this time, but they must be placed beforehand. More details on that here.
Secondly, they will also be suspending all political ads after the polls close on Election Day in an effort to “to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse.” As of now, there appears to be no real timeline of when they will allow these ads to return. They simply state “we’ll notify advertisers when this policy is lifted.”
Lastly, also in an effort to reduce confusion, they will be banning all ads and content that prematurely declare a victory for either side.
Updates from Russia
One of the big stories out of the 2016 election was the use of social media platforms by Russian operatives to disseminate propaganda to generally disrupt the election and social order in the United States. So what’s happening this time around?
At the end of September, in the same blog post that detailed the platform’s actions against troll farms and coordinated inauthentic behavior, they also detailed the removal of several disinformation networks linked to Russian military intelligence. These networks weren’t large, nor were they found to be directly targeting the 2020 election, but Facebook appears to be taking a more aggressive and proactive approach this time around.
The post also states that “hack and leak” operations – which refer to the theft, manipulation, and release of sensitive information – are “one of the threats we’re particularly focused on and concerned about ahead of the November elections in the US.”
The Social Dilemma
On top of all of this happening around the election, Facebook is simultaneously dealing with the PR fallout of a new Netflix documentary that “explores the dangerous impact of social networking” and the ways that social media companies like Facebook follow us around.
We tweet, we like, and we share— but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? Silicon Valley insiders reveal how social media is reprogramming civilization. #TheSocialDilemma Only on Netflix, starting September 9th. pic.twitter.com/rm5enizw57
— The Social Dilemma (@SocialDilemma_) August 29, 2020
Facebook actually released an official response to the film, asserting that it “buries the substance in sensationalism” and “gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work to create a convenient scapegoat for what are difficult and complex societal problems.”
They then go on to list the specific points the documentary gets wrong.
So, yeah. It’s been a chaotic month for Facebook, to say the least. And October is only halfway over!