Facebook Inc said on Thursday it would stop accepting new political ads in the week before the U.S. Election Day on November 3, in a series of moves that the company billed as its final plan for reducing the risks of misinformation and election interference.
Facebook also said it was creating a label for posts by candidates or campaigns that try to claim victory before the election results are official.
In an interview on CBS News on Thursday, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said of the measures: "This will definitely apply to the president once this policy goes into place, and it will apply to everyone equally."
President Donald Trump is running for a second term, facing Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and there are also congressional and gubernatorial races.
In a Facebook post announcing the changes Zuckerberg said he was concerned about the unique challenges voters would face this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted a surge in voting by mail.
"I'm also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country," he said.
Zuckerberg has previously defended his decision to allow for a freewheeling political conversation on Facebook, including through paid ads, which the company exempts from its fact-checking program with external partners, including Reuters.
- Want to work in Israeli hi-tech? You may be in for hell
- Cellphone hacking and millions in Gulf deals: Inner workings of top secret Israeli cyberattack firm revealed
- Russian influence campaign targeted left-wing voters in U.S., U.K., Facebook says
A Facebook spokesman told Reuters that political advertisers can resume creating new ads after Election Day.
Twitter Inc last year banned political ads, and Alphabet's Google limited the ways election advertisers could micro-target voters.
Facebook has been battered by criticism, including from its own employees, since allowing several inflammatory posts by Trump to remain untouched earlier this summer, including one that contained misleading claims about mail-in ballots.
Asked on CBS News if he had personally engaged with President Trump on his posts about voting, Zuckerberg said he did not think he had recently but he had had "certain discussions with him in the past where I've told him that I thought some of the rhetoric was problematic."
Experts on disinformation have also raised the alarm, echoed in threat assessments by Facebook executives, about false claims and conspiracy theories spreading in the increasingly likely scenario that official results are not immediately available on election night.
In his post, Zuckerberg said that this could be "a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted."
DOMESTIC, FOREIGN THREATS
Facebook, the world's biggest social network, will continue to allow campaigns and others to run political ads that are already in the system, and will permit them to change spending amounts and user targeting, but will block adjustments to the ads' content or design.
Zuckerberg said Facebook was "increasingly seeing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections from within our own borders" in addition to foreign influence campaigns, like the one it and U.S. intelligence agencies determined Russia carried out to meddle in the 2016 vote. Moscow has denied the allegations.
To address those threats, Facebook will label any posts seeking to delegitimize the outcome of the election, he wrote.
The company will also widen the criteria for content to be removed as voter suppression and will remove posts with misinformation about COVID-19 and voting, which Zuckerberg said could be used to scare people away from exercising their right to vote.
Seeking to boost credible information in addition to tamping down misleading posts, Facebook will partner with Reuters to provide news in the social network's Voting Information Center about official results. It also said it would limit the number of messages that can be forwarded at one time to five.