Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said late Tuesday that the social network is creating a new online voter information center as part of an effort to get 4 million people to register to vote in the 2020 US elections. The social network will also let users turn off political advertising if they don’t want to see it.
In an op-ed published in USA Today, Zuckerberg said the new center will include information about how and when to vote, voter registration, voting by mail, and early voting. More than 160 million people in the US will see this new online hub, as it will show up at the top of the Facebook News Feed and on its photo-sharing service Instagram. Information from state and local election officials will also appear in the center.
“The 2020 election is going to be unlike any other. It was already going to be a heated campaign, and that was before the pandemic — and before the killing of George Floyd and so many others forced us yet again to confront the painful reality of systemic racism in America. People want accountability, and in a democracy the ultimate way we do that is through voting,” Zuckerberg said in the op-ed. Facebook is calling it the “largest voting information campaign in American history.”
The campaign underscores Facebook’s efforts to rehab its image ahead of the 2020 election. The company has faced criticism that it hasn’t done enough to combat misinformation, including lies from politicians who are exempt from fact-checking on the platform. During the 2016 US presidential election, Russian trolls also used the social network to sow discord among Americans.
Last week, Democratic presidential candidateurged Facebook to change its mostly hands-off approach to political speech. Biden’s campaign sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking the company to fact-check all political ads two weeks before they’re allowed to run on the platform and fact-check election content that goes viral. Facebook, which says political speech is already heavily scrutinized, said in response that if lawmakers set new rules about campaign ads, it would follow them.
In the meantime, Facebook will let users who no longer wish to see political ads turn them off. Zuckerberg didn’t say when that feature would begin.
“And 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,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We’ll still remind you to vote.”
The company has faced pushback from its own employees who raised concerns about posts from President Donald Trump they said could incite violence amid protests against police brutality. Facebook’s response differed from Twitter, which veiled a tweet from the president about protests in Minnesota, behind a notice that says it violates the company’s rules about “glorifying violence.” Facebook determined that Trump’s controversial remarks in which he stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” didn’t violate its rules against inciting violence.
In the op-ed, Zuckerberg stood by the company’s approach to political speech. Voting, he said, was the best way to hold politicians accountable.
Facebook has helped people to register to vote before. In 2016, the company said it helped more thanregister to vote.
“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. We have rules against speech that will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is exempt from them. But accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say,” he said.
Twitter users were able to still see Trump’s remarks if they clicked on the notice, but Facebook doesn’t have the same feature.
Zuckerberg also acknowledged that the company was slow to stop Russian interference in the 2016 election, but said it’s more prepared this time. Facebook has removed more than 50 networks of malicious accounts last year and 18 networks of accounts this year.
“This work is never finished, but we’ve learned a lot and have adapted our systems to protect against interference,” he said.