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Facebook to ban census suppression on its platforms

Facebook will soon ban misinformation about the 2020 census in a bid to “promote an accurate count of every person in the country” — its latest effo...
Credit: CNN
Facebook sign in page on smartphone and facebook logo on background.

(CNN) — Facebook said Thursday, Dec. 19  it will soon ban misinformation about the 2020 census in a bid to “promote an accurate count of every person in the country” — its latest effort to combat criticism over its handling of political disinformation on the platform.

The ban covers content by politicians as well as advertisers, and prohibits posts that mislead Americans about where, when and how to participate in the census.

Facebook’s new policy will likely be put to the test in real time, as the US Census Bureau begins surveying its first households early next year. But how Facebook’s enforcement could play out is an open question.

Facebook has said it’s eliminated billions of fake accounts this year and thousands of pieces of content that violate various company policies, in an indication of its progress. But watchdog reports suggest the company has continued to struggle with misleading political content despite new policies designed to limit its reach.

The decennial Census is a politically crucial count of the US population that underpins congressional redistricting as well as the disbursement of federal funding for a wide array of programs.

Other content subject to the ban includes false claims that could spread fear or concern about the census. An example, Facebook said, would be posts that say participating in the census could lead to a law enforcement crackdown or that a participant’s census information may be shared with other government agencies.

“We will begin enforcement next month and use a combination of technology and people to proactively identify content that may violate this policy,” wrote Kevin Martin, Facebook’s vice president of US public policy, and Samidh Chakrabarti, a product director in the company’s civic engagement division, in a blog post. They added that the new policies were developed with input from experts from the US Census Bureau, federal lawmakers and civil rights groups.

Under an additional policy for advertisers, Facebook said, ads that “portray census participation as useless or meaningless” will also be banned. Advertisers who wish to run ads related to the census will be expected to undergo the same verification process that the company requires of political advertisers, Facebook said.

Some civil rights groups welcomed the announcement. In a statement, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said Facebook had “finally listened” to concerns about potential census interference and had developed “the most comprehensive policy to date” to fight census misinformation on its platform. Then it vowed to hold Facebook to its commitments.

“Any good policy is meaningless without proper enforcement,” the group said. “We, along with our partners, will continue to work with Facebook to ensure that policies against census and voter interference are fully implemented. The census and our elections demand extreme vigilance — there are no do-overs.”

In October, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed confusion about Facebook’s policies while questioning CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Ocasio-Cortez asked whether Facebook’s policies permitted her to advertise the wrong election date to voters in predominantly black districts.

Zuckerberg said that that conduct would be prohibited under the company’s existing policies banning voter suppression on the platform, and pledged to extend the same approach to the census.

“If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause … that is calling for violence, or could risk imminent physical harm, or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy, we will take that content down,” he said.