Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has detailed its plans to combat misinformation about the upcoming election and census in a 26-page update to its second annual Civil Rights Audit published this week. Facebook began conducting the annual Civil Rights Audit in 2018 to address concerns from underrepresented communities and advocacy groups on its platform. Civil rights groups have identified the 2020 election and census as events likely to inspire harassment, discrimination and misinformation aimed at disenfranchising racial and religious minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals.
The social media giant has been used to spread misinformation about previous elections. During the 2016 election cycle, misinformation and foreign meddling that was rampant. Russia was accused of waging an extensive cyber-influence operation during the campaign season aimed at helping President Donald Trump get elected. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.
With both the census and presidential election taking place next year, 2020 will present a major test of Facebook’s ability to manage misinformation on its platform. The company has come under scrutiny over its hands-off approach to posted content. In most cases, the company doesn’t ban or delete misinformation. It just posts warnings and downgrades misleading material so that it reaches fewer people.
The U.S. Census takes place every 10 years. It is used to gather information about the population that is used for decisions like where federal funds will be allocated and how congressional districts will be drawn. Census interference, such as posts that misrepresent the methods or logistics around filling out census forms, could be used to drive down participation rates for minorities and other marginalized groups.
Facebook is planning to ban users from spreading disinformation around the census. The company will also ban ads that discourage people from voting. While some details were disclosed in a blog post from Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, most are being held closely under wraps to prevent bad actors from making plans to get around Facebook’s safeguards.