How Facebook is Looking to Support Democracy in 2020 and Beyond



In a new push to combat political disinformation, Facebook is introducing a Voter Information Center and allowing users to opt-out of political ads.


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Amid years of controversy and scrutiny surrounding political content, Facebook is approaching the upcoming 2020 election with a new, multi-faceted approach, what it’s labeling, “another line of defense” against interference and a mechanism to avoid amplifying disinformation. Core to the solution is shifting responsibility to the public at large by equipping them with the details they need to vote and have their voices heard and enabling them to “turn off” political ads they don’t wish to see.

A new voter information hub

“Voting is voice. It’s the single most powerful expression of democracy, the best way to hold our leaders accountable and how we address many of the issues our country is grappling with….but accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say,” Zuckerberg said in a recent op-ed for USA Today. Put simply, rather than remove misinformation, the emphasis will be on lifting voter participation.

To achieve this the platform is unveiling a Voter Information Hub modeled off of the COVID-19 information center launched earlier this spring. At a high-level, it will provide essential guidance to U.S. voters including how to register to vote, request a mail-in or absentee ballot, and, most importantly, when to vote, where to vote, and whether there are ID requirements. The info center will also supply local alerts from election officials outlining any adjustments to voting methods in light of the pandemic.

With this push, Facebook’s goal is to register 4 million voters using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger — double what it estimates it helped people register in 2016 and 2018. Further, the platform expects more than 160 million to see this authoritative information between July and November according to Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s Vice President of Product Management and Social Impact.

Opting out of political ads on Facebook and Instagram

Back in January Facebook introduced more options to limit how a user could be targeted by political advertisers by opting-out of Custom Audience targeting. Alternatively, if an advertiser had used a list to exclude them, they could make themselves eligible to see the ads. Looking ahead, Facebook is taking an even bigger step in this direction by enabling people to opt-out of political ads entirely.

Specifically, “all social issues, electoral or political ads from candidates, Super PACs or other organizations that have the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them.” The same options will also be available on Instagram. There are two ways to turn off political ads — either through each platform’s ad settings or directly for any political or social issue ad that pops on your feed.

In the Facebook app,

  1. Tap the “Menu” button then navigate to your settings (three horizontal lines in the bottom right corner)
  2. Next, tap “Ad Preferences” then “Ad Topics”
  3. In the pop-up menu, select “see fewer ads about this topic

In the Instagram app, the process is similar and beings by:

  1. Pressing the “Menu” button within your main profile (three horizontal lines in the upper right corner)
  2. Under “Settings,” select “Ads” then “Topic Preferences
  3. Finally, tap “Social Issues, Elections or Politics,” and then “Save

To opt-out directly through a political ad, find any post marked as “Paid by” a political campaign, candidate, or group, then “Confirmed Organization.” For Instagram, this will show in a button labeled “Paid for by.” A pop-up message will then appear allowing you to select to see fewer ads that are similar.

Enhancing transparency around ad spend

Another key part of Facebook’s latest initiative is bringing greater transparency around advertising spend. In this vein, the company is introducing a new update to its Ad Library whereby the amount of ad spending can be traced for US House and Senate races as well as Presidential candidates. In addition, a custom tracker will compare the spending of advertisers running political or issue ads allowing voters to gather a breakdown as to the finances behind the different messages they’re being served.

Collectively, this is a significant step for the platform — one that will continue to evolve as the weeks and months go on and that will be interesting to observe as people take political content into their own hands through these manual options.

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