Facebook enables users to block political ads as company launches voting information center

Tech News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Facebook users will soon see information about polling locations, early voting options and voting by mail as the company rolls out its voting information center ahead of the November election.

In Texas, where the primary runoff election was pushed to July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, users may already be able to remove political ads from popping up.

Users have already had control over what kinds of ads they see based on interest. Those controls can be found in the “ad preferences” section of your settings. Facebook’s public policy manager Lori Moylan said applying that ability to political ads may prevent election fatigue.

“Maybe you get a little tired of it and you don’t want to see political ads from groups and candidates every time you turn on your Facebook,” Moylan said.

“In advance of the election, we wanted to give people the ability to turn off political and social ads entirely for a period if they want,” she said.

“The biggest threats in this year’s election are misinformation,” Moylan said. “Whether it’s the foreign actors who are coming in trying to peddle just information about the election, or simply well-intended users who, because the election might be a little bit more complicated this year with coronavirus, are trying to report and share something with their friends that turns out to not actually be accurate.”

Nick Bowman, an associate professor of journalism and creative media industries at Texas Tech University, said people will still discuss politics and share misinformation regardless of the kind of ads they see.

“From a user experience standpoint, it’s brilliant, because you’re telling people that they can just block something that upsets them, right? I don’t know if it’s a very robust solution from any other perspective,” Bowman said.

“Clicking that ‘I’m not going to see any more political ads’ button does almost nothing for the political process,” but it does “make some folks feel better,” he said.

Moylan said the company wants to make sure prospective voters have accurate information before heading to the polls.

“We know that there’s going to be a lot of expression on our platform, you know, over the next five months as citizens disagree over these really important issues,” she said.

“Texas… is in the midst of some fights about how the election is going to take place this year given coronavirus, and so, you know, that’s a good example of why we’re trying to build this voter information center,” she said.

“Because with so much going back and forth, we know that our users will have real questions about you know, what’s the best way for them to exercise their voice while also keeping themselves safe,” she continued.

One of the outcomes the company aims for is preventing foreign interference in American elections, Moylan said.

“We’ve taken massive steps since the 2016 election, you know, where we did see, you know, the Russians making an attempt to influence the US election by purchasing ads,” Moyland explained, adding that the company has 35,000 employees working on efforts to root out nefarious behavior by foreign users.

The voting information center is expected to launch in the summer, while the political ad-blocking settings are already active for some users.

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