Meta loosely outlined how it plans to brace its platforms for the upcoming U.S. midterm elections Tuesday, starting with political ads. In November, the nation will decide a number of key congressional and gubernatorial races in the midst of worsening political polarization that the social network has become synonymous with in recent years.
Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, detailed steps similar to the measures the company took previously in lieu of proposing many new ideas or areas of investment. That includes disabling new “political, electoral and social issue ads” during the week prior to voting on November 8. Ads that ran before the blackout period will be allowed to continue running but the company will disable most edits for them during that time, including any changes to who they target.
“Our rationale for this restriction period remains the same as 2020: in the final days of an election, we recognize there may not be enough time to contest new claims made in ads,” Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg wrote in a blog post. “This restriction period will lift the day after the election and we have no plans to extend it.”
Meta might not have plans to extend its pause on political ads, but it could still wind up improvising. Facebook paused political ads on November 4, 2020 but wound up extending that blackout phase well into the next year, only making an exception in mid-December for campaigns around the Georgia runoff elections.
Meta also reiterated that it will not allow any posts or ads that misrepresent key details about the voting process including the date, time and qualifications for voting. The company also notes that it will disallow misinformation related to the “outcome of an election,” but its poor track record of uneven enforcement around the “Stop the Steal” movement and groups that staged the violent attack at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 calls those measures into doubt.
On Facebook, accounts and groups promoting false claims that the election was “stolen” were able to post prolifically and even organize after the election, easily evading bans on a handful of relevant keywords. The company only announced more serious efforts to stop the spread of election misinformation after the January 6 attack.
The social media company was also keen to highlight its investments in protecting elections, noting that it has hundreds of people working on concerns around the 2022 election and that it invested $5 billion into safety and security work in the last year, though that total did not go toward work specific to elections. The company didn’t mention that its dedicated elections team, the civic integrity unit, was dissolved and redistributed across its workforce after the 2020 election. Facebook framed the decision in a positive light at the time, but some employees and critics of the company raised concerns that election issues would be put on the backburner.
While Meta projects confidence about its political advertising precautions heading into the U.S. 2022 midterms, it is already failing to enforce those same safety measures elsewhere around the globe. A new report from human rights organization Global Witness found that Facebook approved paid posts containing false information about Brazil’s upcoming election, including ads publicizing “the wrong election date, incorrect voting methods and questioning the integrity of the election — including Brazil’s electronic voting system.”
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