Facebook has announced it will again ban political advertising targeting users in the state of Georgia, following the election there on Tuesday.
The social media company said that, starting on Wednesday, Georgia users would again be subject to the US-wide political ad ban instated following the 3 November presidential vote. Facebook had temporarily lifted the ban in Georgia ahead of the runoff elections to allow political messaging to reach more voters.
“Following the Georgia runoff elections, Georgia will re-join the existing nationwide pause on social issue, elections and political ads,” Facebook said in a blogpost.
“This is part of our ongoing efforts to reduce the potential for confusion or abuse,” the company told advertisers in an email reviewed by Reuters.
Facebook and Google had introduced pauses on political ads after the November presidential election as part of measures to combat misinformation and other abuses on the platforms. Google lifted its pause in December, saying it no longer considered the post-election period to be a “sensitive event”.
Facebook lifted its own ad ban on 15 December exclusively for the state of Georgia, due to “feedback from experts and advertisers across the political spectrum about the importance of expressing voice” and using Facebook to reach voters ahead of Georgia’s runoff elections. For the rest of the country, the ban remained.
The change announced on Tuesday means any ads about the Georgia runoff elections would be paused and any advertisers who were previously allowed to run ads about the Georgia runoff elections would not be able to create new political ads.
It comes after it was discovered that Republican politicians and other operatives were using advertising on Facebook to target Georgia voters with misinformation in the final days ahead of the vote.
A report from the global human rights group Avaaz found a number of ads on Facebook sponsored by Republicans that featured misinformation or falsehoods meant to sway voter opinion. One sponsored by the Senate Leadership Fund claims the Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is “threatening to defund the police”, which he is not. Another from the Republican party run in December accused the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, of scheming to replace the president-elect, Joe Biden, with the vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris.
Nearly half of these false ads were shared by political candidates in the race, who are exempt from Facebook’s fact checking rules. Facebook has come under fire for the broad exemptions it grants politicians who advertise on its platform. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has defended the policy, saying Facebook should not be the arbiter of truth in political scenarios.
Critics of Facebook say the spread of lies ahead of the Georgia election underscore how ineffective the company’s measures to address these issues have been. The company’s oversight board, introduced in late 2020, was meant to adjudicate disputes regarding content. But the group is not able to take down content quickly, limiting its effectiveness in breaking news situations. A group of academics and civil rights leaders critical of Facebook, calling themselves the Real Facebook Oversight Board, say the misinformation exposed in Georgia this week is proof there is more to be done.
“The Facebook Oversight Board is complicit in a misinformation campaign in Georgia,” the group said in a statement. “They must do better, and Facebook needs to be held accountable for their failure to protect voters from disinformation.”
Reuters contributed to this report