Facebook and other social media companies have been trying to tackle misinformation on their services, especially ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential elections. They already have similar policies around voter suppression, banning misleading information about when and where to vote, for instance.
Facebook said Thursday it will prohibit advertisements that portray taking part in the census as “useless or meaningless” or that encourage people not to participate. The company also said it will try to identify and remove misleading census posts before people see them. But it will also remove any posts it misses after the fact, using both technology and humans to spot violations. The company said it will begin enforcing the census policy in January.
The census, which happens every 10 years, is crucial to determining how many representatives a state gets in Congress and which states and cities get billions of dollars in federal funding for roads, healthcare, low-income programs and other projects. The results of the 2020 census also will be used to redraw electoral maps.
Civil rights leaders worry that misinformation that discourages immigrants and minorities from participating in the census or voting could lead to those populations being underrepresented in key government decisions for years. Misinformation could include warnings of deportation to discourate Latinos from participating, even though federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing census data, including with law enforcement and immigration officials.
Rashad Robinson, president of civil rights group Color of Change, which has pushed Facebook to combat racism and misinformation, called Facebook’s new policy “welcome progress.” But Robinson said the policy “is only as good as its enforcement and transparency, which, to be clear, is an area that Facebook has failed in the past.”