Civics: Facebook’s Political Ad Ban Also Threatens Ability to Spread Accurate Information on How to Vote

Jeremy Merrill:

Facebook this week said it would bar political ads in the seven days before the presidential election. That could prevent dirty tricks or an “October surprise” and give watchdogs time to fact-check statements. But rather than responding with glee, election officials say the move leaves them worried.

Included in the ban are ads purchased by election officials — secretaries of state and boards of elections — who use Facebook to inform voters about how voting will work. The move effectively removes a key communication channel just as millions of Americans will begin to navigate a voting process different from any they’ve experienced before.

“Every state’s elections office has a very small communications office that is doing everything that they can to get the word out about the election,” said Gabe Rosenberg, the communications director for Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (who is not related to this reporter). “This just makes it a little bit harder, for, as far as I can see, no real gain.”

The rule change was announced Thursday in a Facebook post by the site’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Previously, Facebook’s rules for fact-checking certain campaign ads but not others have come under fire. Taken together, they demonstrate how Facebook has become an integral piece of the American democratic process — but one that is controlled by the decisions of a private corporation, which can set rules in its own interest.

For elections administrators, the last few days before an election can be the most stressful and when communication is needed most. They remind voters to mail back their absentee ballots and when Election Day voting begins and ends. Many of these ads can still be run under Facebook’s new rules, as long as they’re set up more than a week before the election.

Many taxpayer supported School Districts use Facebook services, including Madison.