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Facebook Will Ban Political Ads After Polls Close, Plans to Delete ‘Militarized’ Calls for Poll-Watching

Todd Spangler
·4 mins read

Facebook, trying to further instill confidence that its powerful platform won’t interfere with the 2020 U.S. elections, announced an expanded set of policies — including prohibiting ads after polls close Nov. 3.

Among other steps: Facebook said it will remove posts from anyone to engage in poll watching “when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of integrity, wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

That will specifically ban posts that use words like “army” or “battle” in the context of poll-watching, according to Facebook — wording that Donald Trump’s campaign has used recently in calling for an “army for Trump” to watch polls on Election Day.

“Volunteer to be a Trump Election Poll Watcher. Sign up today!” Trump said in a post on Facebook Monday, linking to the campaign’s armyfortrump.com website. Facebook attached a link to its Voting Information Center from the Trump post but took no other action.

On the ad front, the social giant will temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral or political ads in the U.S. after the polls close on Nov. 3, “in order to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse,” Rosen wrote. Facebook didn’t say when it would resume running such ads.

The latest policy changes come after Facebook last month said it will not accept new political ads in the week before the Nov. 3 election (although it will allow ads that have already been paid for). Facebook is keeping its policy to not fact-check political ads — or posts by politicians — except in cases where those violate its broader prohibitions against disinformation or other community guidelines.

In another effort to show it’s taking the crackdown on misinformation seriously, Facebook on Tuesday said it banned all activity from groups associated with QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy movement.

Acknowledging that any election results may not be final for some time, Facebook said it is planning to issue a notification at the top of Facebook and Instagram and apply labels to candidates’ posts directing people to the Voting Information Center for more information about the vote-counting process.


Facebook’s mockups of what the “votes are still being counted” alert may look like on the Facebook and Instagram apps.

If a candidate is declared the winner by major media outlets but the outcome is contested by another candidate or party, Facebook will display the name of the declared winning candidate with notifications at the top of Facebook and Instagram, as well as label posts from presidential candidates, with the declared winner’s name and a link to the Voting Information Center.

In addition, as Facebook said previously, if a candidate or party declares “premature victory” before a race is called by major media outlets, “we will add more specific information in the notifications that counting is still in progress and no winner has been determined,” Rosen said.

Also, Facebook will attach an informational label to content that discusses issues of legitimacy of the election or claims that “lawful methods of voting like mail-in ballots will lead to fraud,” according to Rosen. Last month, Facebook did just that on a post by Trump in which he urged U.S. voters to cast mail-in ballots and then show up in person at local polls to “see whether or not your your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted).”

Facebook is still nursing wounds from the 2016 U.S. elections, when disinformation propagated by a Kremlin-backed Russian hacking group reached an estimated 126 million people. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially said it was “a pretty crazy idea” that his company helped influence the election to get Trump elected. He later changed his tune and was summoned before Congress to explain how Facebook’s platform was used by Russian trolls to try to sway the 2016 election.

Since 2016, Facebook has worked on more than 200 elections worldwide and now has more than 35,000 employees working on safety and security issues, according to Rosen. From March-September 2020, he said, the company has removed over 120,000 posts from Facebook and Instagram in the U.S. for violating its voter-interference policies. In that timeframe, it also removed 30 networks “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” including accounts affiliated with Trump crony Roger Stone.