The latest test balloon from Facebook has appeared.
On Friday, Bloomberg reported that Facebook is considering a power outage of political ads in the “days” ahead of the November 2020 elections. This alarmed democratic campaign workers and experts who warned that this could lead to voter oppression.
“According to this suggestion, the president could use organic posts to suppress postal voting (as he did today), but Democrats could not run ads that encourage people to return their ballot papers,”
Political activists believe that the report could be called a “test balloon” in the media and in the political world. When an organization reveals an idea that it “is considering” either collecting positive press or measuring reactions.
Facebook has come under fire because it has refused to review political ads and because it has not done enough to address pre-election misinformation. Spreading the idea of a last minute temporary load failure could be one way to get the conversation going.
However, Democrats say that banning political ads, especially in the crucial days before the election, is not the way to address the platform’s many problems.
Ads on Facebook are not the problem. The problem is the organic wrong content that goes viral without any accountability. The ban on ads does not solve this – but it disproportionately screws up democratic candidates, especially if it goes further down!
– Amanda Litman (@amandalitman), July 10, 2020
The last days before an election are an important time for campaigns to spread their message, especially for messages to cast their vote. Danielle Butterfield, the paid media director for the progressive political organization Priorities USA, said that “a majority of voters only pay attention to politics in the last second.” The period that Facebook has chosen hypothetically could therefore be extremely serious.
In addition, much of this news, especially for Democrats, will focus on efforts to get the vote. As Trump himself said, low-turnout elections have favored Republicans in the past, and Trump has already tried to undermine confidence in the voting process. Democrats see paid advertising as a crucial way to counter the kind of inflammatory misinformation about polls that spread like wildfire on Facebook to end the poll.
“We know that the Republicans will try to give the impression that voting is inaccessible and difficult, especially in this pandemic,” said Butterfield. “It will be our job to come out and show that this is not the case and that voting is easy and accessible, yet can be carried out safely.”
Deactivating ads would bring the Democrats’ ability to do this to their knees, especially since this pandemic makes it difficult to go door-to-door.
The potential suppression of voters that could result from Facebook policies makes the proposal as a democracy-friendly measure by Facebook all the more ridiculous. Too much fanfare, Facebook announced a massive vote attempt in June and has explicitly banned posts that suppress voters. At the same time, Facebook defended its decision to keep Trump’s contribution, which could suppress the vote.
“I really hope they don’t pull this idea out because it would be incredibly dangerous,” said Butterfield. “But I’ve learned to no longer trust Facebook to do the right thing.”