Facebook has vowed to reject political ads that claim victory for a candidate in the 2020 election before the results are finalized, a scenario that election watchers fear is likely as an increased number of people vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Facebook will be rejecting political ads that claim victory before the results of the 2020 election have been declared," company spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted Wednesday.
The new policy marks a departure for Facebook. The social media behemoth has repeatedly declined to fact check political ads in the past, much to the chagrin of Democrats and progressive groups who accuse the network of allowing misleading messages to spread as long as it gets paid for them.
Some context : Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines earlier this month when he banned new political ads from being distributed on the platform during the week before Election Day. The rationale, he asserted, was that all political ads should be published in advance so that candidates have time to respond to accusations. The ads could resume immediately after Election Day, Facebook said.
But there's no guarantee a winner will be certain on Election night. As Zuckerberg acknowledged, "It's important that we prepare for this possibility in advance and understand that there could be a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted."
Facebook previously committed to policing Facebook posts that prematurely declare a victory — hitting them with a label that says the election is not yet decided. Wednesday's decision to ban paid political ads that do the same expands on that policy. Facebook will rely on Reuters and the National Election Pool to determine results.
The criticism : Republicans and Democrats alike were quick to bemoan Facebook's ban on political ads in the week before the election. Each side said it put them at a disadvantage, particularly as they try to drive remaining voters to the polls.
But Facebook has faced mounting criticism for how it handles misinformation spreading on its network. Though misleading posts circulating on pages and groups present a greater harm, critics have said, the social network's unwillingness to fact check political ads has been a point of contention.
What's next : Zuckerberg said three weeks ago that Facebook planned no further changes to how it handles election content before a winner is named, though a company executive later told POLITICO that unexpected or extreme circumstances could force the company to make adjustments.
With 41 days until Election Day, more change could be on the horizon.