By BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer
Facebook is launching a widespread effort to boost U.S. voter turnout and provide authoritative information about voting — just as it doubles down on its policy allowing politicians like President Donald Trump to post false information on the same subject.
The social media giant is launching a “Voting Information Center” on Facebook and Instagram that will include details on registering to vote, polling places and voting by mail. It will draw the information from state election officials and local election authorities.
The information hub, which will be prominently displayed on people’s Facebook news feeds beginning on Wednesday — and on Instagram later in the summer — is similar to the coronavirus information center the company launched earlier this year in an attempt to elevate facts and authoritative sources of information on COVID-19.
Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, continue to face criticism for not removing or labeling posts by Trump that that spread misinformation about voting by mail and, many said, encouraged violence against protesters.
“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg wrote earlier this month.
In a USA Today opinion piece Tuesday, Zuckerberg reaffirmed that position.
“Ultimately, I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves,” he wrote. “That’s why I think we should maintain as open a platform as possible, accompanied by ambitious efforts to boost voter participation.”
Facebook’s free speech stance may have more to do with not wanting to alienate Trump and his supporters while keeping its business options open, critics suggest.
Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Platform Accountability Project at Harvard Kennedy School, said Facebook “doesn’t want to tick off a whole swath of people who really believe the president and appreciate” his words.
In addition to the voting hub, Facebook will also now let people turn off political and social issue ads that display the “paid for by” designation, meaning a politician or political entity paid for it. The company announced this option in January but it is going into effect now.
Sarah Schiff, product manager who works on ads, cautioned that Facebook’s systems “aren’t perfect” and said she encourages users to report “paid for by” ads they see if they have chosen not to see them.