Facebook Won’t Sell New Political Ads the Week Before the Election

It's part of several election-related initiatives announced this morning

Advertising makes up nearly all revenue for the social media platform. Getty Images, Facebook
Headshot of Scott Nover

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today that the social network will not accept new political advertising in the week leading up to Election Day. It’s an effort, he said, to clamp down on misinformation and ensure voting isn’t suppressed.

Political ads purchased before that final week will still be able to run on Facebook and Instagram during the final week because journalists and fact-checkers will have had time to “scrutinize” them.

Notably, the company’s new policy still puts the responsibility of fact-checking these political advertisements on third parties. The platform itself will not fact-check claims made in the ads. The policy will go into effect Oct. 27.

“It’s important that campaigns can run Get Out the Vote campaigns, and I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his profile. 

Zuckerberg has long grappled with what role political ads play on Facebook. As smaller competitors like Twitter, LikedIn, Pinterest and TikTok have banned political ads outright in the last two years, Facebook has disagreed with the approach.

The company has been criticized for refusing to fact-check political ads, with Zuckerberg commonly saying he doesn’t want Facebook to be the “arbiter of truth.” Facebook has also come under fire for its role in the 2016 election, when the Russian government mounted a high-profile disinformation campaign on the platform in support of now-President Donald Trump.

However, after facing criticism from politicians, civil rights groups and advertisers in recent months, Zuckerberg has conceded on some of his rigid stances about political ads and content moderation. The company began labeling rule-breaking posts from world leaders and allowing users to opt out of political ads entirely. 

Critics were quick to take issue with the new policy. Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, called the voting moratorium “window dressing.”

“So, you can run [a] bad ad now, pause it, and then reuse [it] that week,” he tweeted. “Yikes.”

“Mark Zuckerberg, alone, gets to set key rules—with significant consequences—for one of the most important elections in recent history,” tweeted Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science. “That should not be lost in the dust of who these changes will hurt or benefit.”

The political ads moratorium is one of a series of changes Zuckerberg previewed in a Facebook post this morning. 

Facebook will include state-by-state voting tutorials in its Voting Information Center panel on its main platform and Instagram, and will work with state election authorities to “identify and remove false claims about polling conditions.” It’s also partnering with Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide data about election results.

It’s also introducing limits to message forwarding on Messenger to prevent misinformation from spreading person-to-person, an implementation already made on WhatsApp, which Facebook found to be “an effective method of preventing misinformation from spreading in many countries,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The company also said it will “remove posts with claims that people will get Covid-19 if they take part in voting” and will put an “information label” on posts that seek to “delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods” like claiming mail-in voting leads to election fraud.

“It’s important to recognize that there may be legitimate concerns about the electoral process over the coming months,” Zuckerberg said. “We want to make sure people can speak up if they encounter problems at the polls or have been prevented from voting, but that doesn’t extend to spreading misinformation.”

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.