Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that his social platforms will soon allow a user to not see any political advertisements on their platforms, if they have already decided on whom to vote for, and wish to stay away from any propaganda video pushed by electoral candidates. The move, announced by Zuckerberg in an op-ed published on USA Today, comes at a time of increasing political sensitivity. While Facebook has faced criticism for allowing politicians to run ads containing misinformation on the platform, its recent stance on US president Donald Trump’s posts about violence and mail-in ballots have attracted severe criticism from all corners, including its own employees.
“By giving people a voice, registering and turning out voters, and preventing interference, I believe Facebook is supporting and strengthening our democracy in 2020 and beyond. And for those of you who've already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you – so we're also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads. We'll still remind you to vote,” Zuckerberg wrote in his column.
The move that allows people to ban political ads from their timelines can be a major tool to prevent politicians from forcefully pushing agenda to users on social networks, which hold considerable power to sway public opinion. After facing much flak from all corners regarding its role during the 2016 US presidential elections, Facebook has claimed to present a far cleaner and more responsible platform this year. Some of its initiatives have includes a ‘paid for by’ tag on top of political videos promoted by candidates, thereby acting like a disclaimer against political bias. Facebook has also stated that it will operate a verified news hub for unbiased content, which users can access to steer clear of the much-debated fake news issue.
Zuckerberg’s views on politics and involving Facebook in political discourse has been criticised heavily. While the executive has firmly maintained that it is not his company’s responsibility to take a political stand because it only acts as an intermediary, many have opined that Facebook needs to take a firmer stand against acts that go against Facebook’s typically observed community guidelines. Facebook, on this note, chose to not take down US president Donald Trump’s post that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
Rival platform Twitter, headed by founder-CEO Jack Dorsey, has taken a far more vocal and definite political stand. Prior to slapping fact checking and violence labels on president Trump’s tweets, Twitter also banned all political advertisements from its platform, in a bid to cut down on propaganda and misinformation on its platform. Like Facebook, Twitter has also taken the verified news hub approach, which users can read in order to get verified information from authenticated sources.
With Zuckerberg stating the ability to disable political ads on his platforms, it can be interesting to see how this affects public discourse. However, Facebook is yet to announce exactly when would the feature be rolled out, and when might users be able to access it. Beyond USA, features such as disabling of political ads and a verified news hub will also trickle down to elections campaigns in other nations as well. India, being one of Facebook’s largest markets, may be a beneficiary of the social media giant’s new actions too.