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Facebook’s ban on new political ads won’t change anything

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Facebook’s new US election guidelines are so narrow that they have no impact on political discourse and news consumption across the site, leaving the same holes open for misinformation to spread.

The social media giant announced on Thursday that it would ban new political ads and enforce other policies related to postal voting and the Covid-19 pandemic in the week leading up to the November 3rd elections.

The announcement wasn’t just a poorly executed PR stunt by Facebook, but a duplication of the guidelines that have allowed the platform to be poisoned for years.

Despite the flashy announcement from Facebook, the website will look like all year round, with a few very small exceptions. There is much ado about nothing.

Let’s break it down as simply as possible:

You will continue to see political ads on Facebook in the week leading up to the election. The political ads ban will only affect new ads submitted after October 27th. Political ads submitted by then will continue to serve, and advertisers can still customize the targeting of those ads to reach the people they want to reach. These ads may also contain lies or misinformation, as per Facebook’s existing guidelines. The only thing this prevents are political ads on last minute topics that appear in the last seven days of the campaign.

Plus, there’s nothing stopping political advertisers from starting their ad purchases on Facebook before the ban goes into effect, so they can run until election day.

Facebook’s changes go into effect just a week before the election, after millions have already voted. According to an analysis by the New York Times, a record number of voters, up to 80 million, are expected to vote before election day between early voting in the states where it is available, the postal vote, and the postal vote. Facebook’s changes to these voters’ media diets will come far too late for millions to make an informed decision.

Users, including political candidates, can continue to spread false information about mail-in votes and the pandemic. The only content that is specifically prohibited in the new policy is posts that say you will be infected with Covid-19 if you go to the vote. If you post this, Facebook will remove it. Other incorrect or misleading content related to voting and / or the pandemic will be marked with a link that provides detailed information.

But you have to ask yourself: in such a polarized environment, do users tend to believe false claims made by their favorite candidate or a link to more information from Facebook? I think we all know the answer to that.

Even if the elections have not yet been called, political candidates can still claim victory or cast doubts about the election results. Again, Facebook adds a link to these posts with exact information. However, candidates can still claim victory prior to the calling of the election or claim electoral fraud if they lose, even if there is no evidence to support these claims. It’s hard to believe that Facebook’s fact-checking will have any real impact on how people think.

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