Facebook to Limit Political Ads Week Before Election, Label Premature Calls

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Facebook Inc.


FB -3.76%

will prohibit new political advertisements in the week before the U.S. presidential election in November and seek to flag any candidates’ premature claims of victory, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

The steps are meant to head off last-minute misinformation campaigns and limit the potential for civil unrest, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a statement Thursday.

“This election is not going to be business as usual,” he said, noting both the difficulties of voting during a pandemic and likely attacks on the credibility of the results.

“I’m worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country,” he said, adding that “our democracy is strong enough to withstand this challenge and deliver a free and fair election.”

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The U.S. intelligence community has warned of attempts at foreign interference, and President Trump has leveled a sustained attack on the integrity of the vote, raising concerns about a social-media-fueled dispute over the election’s outcome. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies have asked Facebook and other social-media companies to plan for such volatile circumstances.

Mr. Zuckerberg cited likely delays in tallying election results due to an expected pandemic-driven surge in absentee voting as a concern.

“It’s important that we prepare for this possibility in advance and understand that there could be a period of intense claims and counterclaims as the final results are counted,” he wrote.

The Trump campaign criticized Facebook’s decision Thursday.

“In the last seven days of the most important election in our history, President Trump will be banned from defending himself on the largest platform in America,” said Samantha Zager, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary, in a statement. “When millions of voters will be making their decisions, the President will be silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia.”

The campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden declined comment on Facebook’s plans.

Ben Block, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Facebook’s changes wouldn’t address what he described as the platform’s fundamental problems.

“Democrats will continue to urge these platforms to recognize the great responsibility they have in 2020 to protect voters from dangerous disinformation,” he said. “That means real, concrete action to combat disinformation that is being organically spread by users on their platforms.”

Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment on campaign officials’ remarks.

Among the moves Facebook announced Thursday are plans to append a label to any false or premature claims of victory by candidates. The label will refer users to Facebook’s voting information center, which on Election Day will include voting results sourced from the Reuters news service.

Other new Facebook election policies include limiting the volume of messages that can be sent through its Messenger platform and expanding rules against voter suppression to cover implicit attempts at misleading users about voting procedures. Facebook will also seek to protect election officials from threats of violence during the vote-counting process, Mr. Zuckerberg said. The company said it would immediately implement its plans to take down misinformation about voting.

In a speech at Georgetown University, Mark Zuckerberg discussed the ways Facebook has tightened controls on who can run political ads while still preserving his commitment to freedom of speech. Video: Facebook, Photo: Nick Wass/Associated Press (Originally Published October 17, 2019)

The social-media giant’s role in the November vote has been closely scrutinized given its dominance and the pivotal role that some—including some Facebook executives—believe it played in the outcome of the 2016 contest.

Progressives have accused Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook’s public policy team of bending rules to avoid confrontations with Mr. Trump, whereas conservatives have broadly accused the Menlo Park, Calif., company of liberal bias.

Mr. Zuckerberg has said that Facebook doesn’t favor either side and that he and his wife would donate $300 million to bolster funding for election infrastructure. A voting information center will soon appear atop users’ pages on Facebook and Instagram, which the company owns, remaining there until the election.

Facebook has said it aims to register four million voters before Election Day on Nov. 3, though the company hasn’t shared information about its progress toward that goal.

Other social-media companies have revealed changes in recent days to improve the reliability of information users see on their platforms. While

Pinterest Inc.

already disallows political ads, the image-sharing company said Thursday it would no longer show ads to users who search for common election-related terms such as candidate names or “vote.”

Pinterest also expanded its misinformation policy, saying it would remove false or misleading information about how to vote or engage in civic duties such as providing data for the Census.

Twitter Inc.

said Wednesday that it would add pinned tweets and descriptions to help explain why certain topics might be trending on its platform.

Such changes come as Mr. Trump continues to attack the credibility of the election. He has alleged without evidence that it would likely be “rigged”—a claim he also made in the run-up to his 2016 victory—by widespread voter fraud or the suppression of Republican votes.

On Wednesday, he encouraged supporters in North Carolina to try to vote both by mail and in person as a way of testing the mail-in balloting system he has long criticized. The president’s remarks prompted a top state election official to clarify that attempting to vote twice is illegal and that “soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law.”

Facebook added a notice Thursday beneath a post in which Mr. Trump suggested voters who cast mail ballots should also “go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated,” saying that voting by mail “has a long history of trustworthiness” and directing users to Facebook’s voter information page.

A bipartisan group of election officials has sought to reassure voters that mail-in ballots are secure and outlined ways for state and local officials to prepare for increased absentee and mail-in voting.

Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com

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