Facebook and Zuckerberg have been taking some rather intense flack lately. Critics accuse them of among other things essentially enabling the widespread dissemination of political falsehood. The social network giant has now come out with a solution of sorts. Rather than finally act as an arbiter of truth or actively moderate what is shared on its platform, it will instead give users a kill switch that lets them turn off any political ads they feel strongly about for whatever reason.
This new feature was first announced in January this year and is a vital part of the current campaign that Facebook is running for the forthcoming 2020 US elections. The goal of this campaign is to boost voter participation and turnout.
As part of that goal, Facebook intends to launch what it calls a “Voting Information Center”. This center will be tasked with offering vital information to voters on where, and how to vote, and enlighten them on how voting by mail and voting registration works. The center will also issue alerts to users that remind them of the need to vote and issue directions to the most convenient polling places to be found.
However, Facebook’s first announcement of its new feature back in January only said that it would make it possible for users to see fewer political ads, rather than eliminate them entirely as it aims to now. We are unsure of what caused the sea change.
Facebook Says Voter Turnout Imperative for 2020 Election but Moderating Political Misinformation Unimportant
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO recently penned an op-ed in USA Today that didn’t exactly win him many admirers. He opined that “many people want us to moderate and remove more of [politicians’] content,” but that he thinks that “accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying.”
Thus, rather than focus on removing the plethora of misleading ads and other information on its platform, the company’s focus will be to register voters and persuade them to vote. He had more to say on the issue: “Voting is voice, it’s the single most powerful expression of democracy, the best way to hold our leaders accountable and how we address many of the issues our country is grappling with.”
The issues the Facebook CEO mentioned might just be of its own making, as those in the know regularly accuse Facebook by omission and commission acting in ways that are not conducive to the growth of democracy. Facebook for instance allows the publishing of intentionally misleading ads that seek to sway voters with half-truths and total lies. It has also ignored the many crude and threatening posts made by President Donald Trump. The last especially attracted no end of criticism, from Facebook employees no less and Joe Biden, the all-but-guaranteed Democratic presidential candidate.
Biden went so far as to pen an open letter to Zuckerberg. The letter was made public last week and in it, Biden insisted that Facebook’s policies on allowing misleading ads from political candidates posed a credible threat to the holding of free and fair elections in the US. We feel he is right.
Twitter Goes Bold!
Facebook was recently hauled over the coals and given a hiding when it declined to take action on a controversial post by President Donald Trump. The post was issued against the backdrop of widespread protests all over the US focused on police brutality and injustice. In it, the President was quoted as saying, “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”
In contrast to Facebook, Twitter speedily restricted the same inflammatory message. It also took the extraordinary step of banning all political ads as of last year.
When announcing this decision, the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey seemed to take a dig of sorts on Facebook’s political ad policies, posting a tweet saying, “It’s not credible for us to say: ‘We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well…they can say whatever they want!”
Kill Switch Cometh!
The new “Kill Switch” for political ads is slated to be activated today for some select individuals. It will roll out all over the US a few weeks later if all goes according to plan. Once the feature is on hand, users can click on an ad to hide it away, or use Facebook’s menu ad settings to decline watching it. Plans are also afoot to launch it in select countries in the nearest future.
Facebook says that users of the new feature will now be enabled to shut off “ all social issues, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs, or other organizations that have the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them.” Instagram which is owned by Facebook will also adopt the same ad options.
According to Facebook, its aim is to “register 4 million voters this year using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.” Should that be achieved it will be double the estimated number of people it rendered registration assistance to in both 2018 and 2016. That’s not too bad.