With ample evidence that Americans will face long lines at polling places on November 3rd, Facebook is limiting the ability of political organizations to run ads after polling places close that would inform voters that if they stay in line, they’ll be able to vote. The social media giant has not defined what specifically “after polling places close” means. Poll closing times vary widely by time zone, state, even locality, and can change as late as the evening of Election Day.
This decision comes after Facebook’s announcement that they will ban new ads in the final week of the election. Banning political ads is not a substitute for moderating content and enforcing policies when right wing actors are intent on delegitimizing the election and will only hurt the ability to communicate about changing dynamics in the final week. Early voting has indicated that voters face unprecedented challenges to casting their ballots in the midst of a global pandemic and this decision by Facebook is yet another example of restrictions that could suppress the vote.
The election cycle has already been negatively impacted by a massive coordinated voter suppression effort by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. Two of the main strategies that define these efforts are misinformation and disinformation. Groups like Priorities USA Action and Color of Change PAC are working to ensure that voters who are impacted by voter suppression understand that despite failures in election administration, they are legally entitled to have their voices heard at the ballot box despite long lines at polling places.
This is also critically important because of the racial dynamics that dictate which communities are forced to wait to cast their ballot. Numerous studies conducted since 2016 have proven that Black and Brown voters are much more likely to endure long lines compared to voters in predominantly white neighborhoods and communities.
Facebook’s decision to limit political advertising after polls close on Election Day not only fails to account for ads that tell voters to stay in line, but their policies also limit the ability of political organizations to alert voters to events like polling location changes, which will likely further contribute to long lines. Additionally, Facebook has failed to offer proper clarity regarding language that the platform will accept with respect to advertising specifically related to voting. This leaves organizations like Priorities and Color of Change PAC in the dark about how to best serve voters accurate information about their voting rights on Election Day.
“Facebook’s profit model for years has been to limit our posts’ reach to our members to force us to buy ads. Now with this last minute decision to block ads, we will not be able to inform people of when and how they can vote up to the very last minute, which we know is a crucial service on Election Day,” said Jennifer Edwards, Senior Director of Communications at Color Of Change PAC.
“Facebook’s decision to limit election communications is nothing less than a contribution to the Trump campaign and to every Republican who seeks to undermine our democracy and suppress the ability of American citizens to exercise their right to vote,” said Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA. “By stifling our ability to serve voters accurate information about their voting rights, specifically their legal right to stay in line at the polls on Election Day, Facebook is prioritizing the organic disinformation of bad actors that seek to do harm. Importantly, this decision by Facebook will disproportionately undermine the political power of Black and Brown communities. We strongly urge Facebook to reverse this decision.”