Mark Zuckerberg has resisted fact checking political ads on the platform © AP

Facebook will prohibit political advertising that “seeks to delegitimise an election”, including claims of widespread voting fraud or corrupt voting methods, in a concession to critics ahead of the US presidential election. 

The social media network updated its political advertising rules on Wednesday to “ban ads that claim voter fraud . . . is widespread” as well as those that “delegitimise any lawful method or process of voting or voting tabulation as illegal, inherently fraudulent or corrupt”.

This included claims about mail-in and absentee voting, as well as in-person voting, it added. 

The changes mark a softening of the contentious decision by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, not to fact check political ads on the platform. The decision comes a day after US President Donald Trump made unproven claims in his first televised debate with Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, that there was going to be “fraud like you’ve never seen” in the election. 

Mr Trump cited several small incidents to suggest that postal votes cast for him were being illicitly discarded, at a time when a big rise in mail-in ballots is expected because of the coronavirus pandemic. The president also reiterated a refusal to honour a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose. 

Line chart showing how Trump and Biden are doing in the US national polls

Despite pressure from activists, leftwing critics and some employees, Mr Zuckerberg has refused to overturn Facebook’s political advertising policy on the grounds that private sector companies should “not be the arbiter of truth”. 

However, in recent weeks, Facebook announced bans on new political advertisements in the week leading up to the US presidential election and on any adverts that prematurely claim victory in the days or weeks that follow. 

The new policy also includes a ban on ads that “claim the election date or the mechanism for electing the president can be changed in ways not permitted by the constitution or federal law”.

Facebook will also bar ads that seek to discredit the election because the results cannot immediately be determined on election day. The increase in postal voting could delay the counting of ballots, raising concerns that Mr Trump might claim victory before the result is verified. 

Google took similar steps last week, announcing that it would ban political advertising for several days after polls close on November 3. 

Separately, Facebook has come under attack this week after the UK’s Channel 4 News reported that the Trump campaign had engaged in voter suppression in 2016. The Trump campaign was alleged to have targeting ads at a category of voters it called “Deterrence”, who they sought to discourage from voting. The report said the Trump campaign wielded voter data gathered illicitly by the now-defunct political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, and took advantage of a lack of advertising restrictions from social media platforms such as Facebook. 

Facebook said it had changed its policies so that “what happened with Cambridge Analytica couldn’t happen today”, adding that it now had “rules prohibiting voter suppression” and a public database for political ads.

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