With US President Donald Trump still refusing to confirm that he will facilitate a peaceful transition of power, in the event of him losing the upcoming election, Facebook has this week updated its rules around false claims in political ads relating to both election fraud and election results.
As explained by Facebook Product Manager Rob Leathern:
"Last week, we said that we would prohibit ads that make premature declarations of victory. We also won’t allow ads with content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of an election or example, this would include calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election."
As noted by Leathern, Facebook has already announced official measures and rules around potential false claims of victory via Facebook ads, which could essentially see candidates use Facebook's massive reach to delegitimize the official poll numbers. But now, Facebook's also looking to combat claims that certain voting processes are overly susceptible to manipulation.
The measures, as noted, are almost definitely, specifically related to comments made by President Trump. In this week's first election debate, for example, Trump again reiterated his belief that:
"As far as the ballots are concerned, it's a disaster. [...] It's a rigged election."
Trump has repeatedly criticized the voting process, and concessions that have made in order to accomodate mail-in voting, which is in line with official health recommendations to combat the spread of COVID-19.
100,000 DEFECTIVE BALLOTS IN NEW YORK. THEY WANT TO REPLACE THEM, BUT WHERE, AND WHAT HAPPENS TO, THE BALLOTS THAT WERE FIRST SENT? THEY WILL BE USED BY SOMEBODY. USA, END THIS SCAM - GO OUT AND VOTE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2020
Yet, despite Trump's reservations, official investigations have found that fraud is exceedingly rare in mail-in votes, and given the potential for such comments to reduce civic participation, Facebook is taking steps, based on that advice, to combat such claims in its ads.
The problem, however, is that this only applies to Facebook ads. Candidates and politicians can still make claims around such within organic posts (though some will trigger fact-check warnings), and while Facebook is also implementing a ban on any new political ads during the final week of the campaign, overall, its restrictions may not go far enough in halting such claims entirely - if, indeed, such comments are posted to candidate profiles at some point in the process.
President Trump, for example, has more than 31 million followers on Facebook, while Democratic candidate Joe Biden has over 3 million, so both have significant reach on the platform without having to use paid ads, which is where Facebook's new rules would apply.
Outside of paid ads, it's hard to know what Facebook will and won't allow, with its approach to regular Page posts from the candidates taking a more lenient stance. Facebook's perspective is that it should limit its interference in such in order to let the people decide based on what's posted, but that could mean that some divisive, and dangerous comments are amplified via its platform without any restriction or challenge.
That somewhat lessens the impact of these new measures - but still, the fact that Facebook is implementing rules around such at all underlines the concerns many have around the potential divisiveness of the election, and what could happen as a result.