Facebook announces election changes, hate speech fight as advertisers pull out

The changes are listed as providing authoritative information on voting during the pandemic, implementing additional steps to fight voter suppression, creating a higher standard for hateful content in ads, and labelling newsworthy content.

The social media giant has announced a handful of changes to its platform, which it has touted will fight against hate speech and prevent misinformation concerning the 2020 United States election, and includes labelling content it deems as newsworthy, but that potentially violates its rules.  

"The 2020 elections were already shaping up to be heated -- and that was before we all faced the additional complexities of voting during a pandemic and protests for racial justice across the country," Mark Zuckerberg posted.

The changes are listed as providing authoritative information on voting during the pandemic, implementing additional steps to fight voter suppression, creating a higher standard for hateful content in ads, and labelling newsworthy content.

See also: Facebook's approach to content moderation slammed by EU commissioners

After announcing a large voting information campaign earlier this month, with the goal of seeing 4 million people register to vote, Facebook has also created a Voting Information Center to share authoritative information on how and when to vote.

The Voting Information Center will be shared at the top of the Facebook and Instagram apps over the coming months.

Facebook will also be handling instances of "voter suppression", such as fact-checking when a user announces a certain polling station is a COVID-19 hotspot, the CEO said.

"Since the most dangerous voter suppression campaigns can be local and run in the days immediately before an election, we're going to use our Elections Operations Center to quickly respond and remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day," Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook will also ban posts that make false claims saying ICE agents are checking for immigration papers at polling places.

Facebook doesn't send posts and ads from politicians to fact-checkers, a policy that's drawn criticism from lawmakers, advocacy groups, and its own employees. Addressing this on Friday, Zuckerberg said often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest.

"A handful of times a year, we leave up content that would otherwise violate our policies if the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm … in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms," he said.

To that end, the social media giant will soon start labelling some of the content it leaves up because it is deemed newsworthy.

"We'll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what's acceptable in our society -- but we'll add a prompt to tell people that the content they're sharing may violate our policies," he continued.

Following the social network saying in January that users would be able to see fewer political ads, but that it would not block them, Zuckerberg said he wants to do more to prohibit the "kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord" by prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads.

See also: Don't want political ads in your Facebook or Instagram feed? You'll be able to turn that off (CNET)

He said specifically, Facebook will prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health, or survival of others.

"We're also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them," he said.

Zuckerberg's changes come as major advertisers pull out during the election period.

The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Colors of Change, Free Press, and Common Sense have been calling on businesses to stop buying ads on Facebook for the month of July. The groups say that doing so will put pressure on Facebook to use its $70 billion in annual advertising revenue to support people who are targets of racism and hate and to increase safety for private groups on the site.

Unilever, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Ben & Jerry's, and The North Face are among major companies and brands that have joined the #StopHateforProfit campaign. 

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