Under fire for running controversial paid messages from public figures including President Donald Trump, Facebook is weighing a ban on political advertising during the final days leading up to the November presidential election, Bloomberg News reported.
An ads blackout is one of the scenarios that Facebook began considering last fall. A chief concern inside the company is that a political advertising ban could undermine “get out the vote” efforts or hobble candidates in the final days of their campaigns.
Facebook spokesman Tom Reynolds declined to comment.
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The internal discussions come as Facebook looks to mollify critics who say the company does too little to moderate toxic speech on its platform.
A civil rights audit commissioned by Facebook and released this week found that Facebook’s failure to rein in toxic speech, racism and misinformation could have serious repercussions on the presidential election. The report, the result of a years-long internal civil rights audit of Facebook’s policies and practices, took particular exception with the company’s decision not to take down inflammatory rhetoric and false claims from Trump.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been reluctant to rein political candidates, particularly in smaller elections. Republicans agree that Facebook should not decide what can and can’t be posted in political ads. But the campaign of former vice president Joe Biden has argued that Facebook’s hands-off approach could have dangerous consequences when ads spread misinformation and suppress voter turnout.
Criticism of the company has intensified since nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd brought the issue of racial justice to the forefront.
Hundreds of companies, including top brands Unilever, Ford and Pfizer, pulled advertising from Facebook this month to protest the spread of racial hatred, white supremacy and violent threats on Facebook and Instagram. The boycott organized by civil rights leaders known as #StopHateForProfit followed a push back from Facebook employees who staged a virtual “walkout” last month.
Facebook maintains it is making strides in identifying and removing misinformation and other harmful and divisive content.
Last month Facebook took a stab at navigating the intensifying debate about political ads, telling users in the United States that they could opt out of seeing social issue, electoral and political ads from candidates or political action committees in their Facebook or Instagram feeds.
“Everyone wants to see politicians held accountable for what they say – and I know many people want us to moderate and remove more of their content,” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, wrote at the time in an op-ed piece in USA TODAY. “For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you – so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads. We’ll still remind you to vote.”
In January, Facebook said it would let users see fewer political ads. Other social media companies have been more forceful. Last year, Twitter banned all political ads.