Zuckerburg Says Facebook Users Can Turn Off Political Ads Ahead of Election

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said U.S. users on the social network will be able to opt out of political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The feature, also covering Instagram, will be available for some users from today and is expected to roll out nationwide in the coming weeks. The tech giant confirmed it will still remind people to vote, regardless of their personal advertising choices.

"For those of you who've already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you—so we're also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads," Zuckerberg wrote in a USA Today opinion article published Tuesday.

The social media platform has been widely criticized in the past for its policy of not fact-checking posts or advertising from political entities. Zuckerberg previously argued it's not right for private companies to censor politicians in a democracy.

The strict stance previously prompted hundreds of employees to sign a petition against the lack of oversight, asserting: "Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing." Twitter announced last October it would stop all political advertising globally.

Now, Facebook has said its users will be able to switch off all "social issue, electoral or political ads" from candidates, Super PACs or organizations that have the "paid for by" political disclaimer. Specific ads can be reported via a dedicated corner button, including any the user feels have slipped through the gaps of their own preferences.

The feature will expand to other countries later this year, and comes as Facebook said it would launch a new "Voting Information Center" with the aim of helping to register four million U.S. voters via its apps, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

From summer, the center will prominently show information about registration, polling locations, information about how to request an absentee ballot and posts from election authorities. It's expected to be seen by more than 160 million people in the U.S.

Additionally, it was announced that "paid for by" disclaimers would remain on political or issue ads that are shared, so people can see exactly who is behind them.

"Accountability only works if we can see what those seeking our votes are saying, even if we viscerally dislike what they say," Zuckerberg wrote in the op-ed.

"I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves... we should maintain as open a platform as possible, accompanied by ambitious efforts to boost voter participation."

Earlier this month, adding to criticism received for its response to a controversial post by president Donald Trump, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden blasted Facebook in a letter, saying it should "promote authoritative and trustworthy sources of election information, rather than the rants of bad actors and conspiracy theorists."

In a firmly-worded response, Facebook hit back: "The people's elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them. There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."

Facebook employees protested publicly this month over a Trump post that included the loaded phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Zuckerberg said it didn't violate incitement of violence policies, but Facebook would now review its internal policies regarding "discussion and threats of state use of force."

What is the Facebook policy on political ads?

Facebook says it's dedicated to fighting false news, so why are politicians not eligible for fact checking? This is how Facebook officially justifies the stance:

"Our approach is grounded in Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, especially in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is the most scrutinized speech there is. By limiting political speech, we would leave people less informed about what their elected officials are saying and leave politicians less accountable for their words."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty