Faced with misinformation, Facebook is back on the offensive

Facebook is taking increasingly stringent steps to combat misinformation ahead of the US presidential election, but is unlikely to change the root of the problem, according to many observers. The platform announced on Thursday that no new political advertising would be allowed in the last week before the vote.

Facebook announced on Thursday, September 3, that no new political ads could be released during the week leading up to the November 3 US presidential election. However, advertisers may continue to submit ads placed online before this period.

The head of the social network, Mark Zuckerberg, has long regarded the words of politicians as almost immobile in the name of freedom of expression and their informative value. He was therefore keen to allow political ads, while Twitter banned them this autumn. But under the rolling fire of Republican billionaires’ problematic or inflammatory comments and under pressure from many organizations (NGOs, brands, etc.), he had to make compromises.

“In general, I think the best antidote to problematic statements is even more telling,” the founders of the California group at CBS explained. “But in the event of disinformation in the last days, there will not necessarily be time to have the necessary debate … That is why it is important to have further restrictions,” he said. he adds.

“Reliable” postal voting

The social network has also promised to remove posts that ensure that voting would lead to contamination with the new coronavirus, or any other attempt to deter citizens from going to the polls. Tactics for “suppression of the vote,” of which Republicans are often accused of black or Hispanic minorities, are generally more likely to vote Democrat.

This week, Donald Trump suggested that his supporters vote twice, leading to outraged reactions and notes from Twitter and Facebook being attached to his misleading posts. By sending his vote by mail and also going to the polls on November 3, “you will be sure that your valuable vote has been taken into account”, he claims. Facebook attached a note to the post, recalling that postal voting had long been considered “reliable” in the United States, “even for this year, according to an independent body.”

A small step

Facebook’s decision has been hailed as a step in the right direction by several American civic movements. But a small step. “These are important advances (…) but it all depends on their implementation,” said Vanita Gupta, chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Banning ads in the past week “will not reduce the overall volume of the platform,” said Casey Fiesler, a professor of information science at Colorado Boulder University, who advocates “solid fact-checking of all policy ads before publication.”

Mark Zuckerberg and his team have been on all fronts for several months to prove that Facebook has changed, that it is no longer the network where massive influential campaigns, mostly orchestrated from Russia, are spreading in the 2016 polls. (US presidential election and Brexit in the UK).

“Superficial changes”

But “Facebook is making superficial changes instead of getting to the heart of the matter: an engine that involves users and reinforces misinformation and hatred to make money,” said Ellen Pao, a lawyer, investor and former head of the Reddit platform.

It’s just “a hollow and dangerous PR business,” lamented Tara McGowan, whose Acronym organization specializes in providing strategic advice to Democratic candidates. “Right-wing publications like Breitbart, Federalist and The Daily Caller can reach millions of voters with lies and misinformation every day on Facebook without having to spend a dollar on advertising,” she said in a statement. .

The announcement was not better received on the right, which regularly accuses platforms of censorship and anti-Republican prejudice, despite the huge digital presence of Donald Trump and his supporters.

Preparing for disaster scenarios

At this point, the level of political tension in the United States is more of a concern for networks than Russian attempts to sow discord. Facebook, Twitter and others support disaster scenarios if their platforms are used to question the outcome of the vote, which may not be known for “days or even weeks,” Zuckerberg insisted.

He is concerned about possible violence on the streets and announced that if a candidate or party tries to claim victory, before all results are known, a link attached to their message will redirect readers to the official results.

With AFP