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Facebook bans 'militarized' calls for poll watching during election

The company also said it would temporarily stop allowing all political ads on its services after polls close Nov. 3.
Facebook's corporate headquarters, in Menlo Park, Calif.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images file

Facebook said Wednesday that it would step up enforcement against posts designed to interfere with voting at polling places, as the company prepares for the possibility of violence leading up to next month's election.

In a new policy, Facebook said it would remove posts that use militarized language to call for people to participate in poll watching. The policy change follows criticism that Facebook had been too lenient on posts with military-style language, including one in which Donald Trump Jr. called on people to "enlist" in an "army" for his father's "election security operation."

Facebook will "remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters," Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said in a company blog post.

Facebook already bans posts that call for coordinated interference at polling places or that call for bringing weapons to polling places, and he said civil rights experts and others had helped Facebook understand "trends in this area."

During a debate last week with former Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump urged his supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully" for potential election issues.

Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of content policy, said the company would not apply the restrictions on militarized language retroactively. "When we apply our policies, we generally apply them going forward," she said on a conference call with reporters.

Bickert said the change in policy was driven in part by an evolution of language that Facebook had observed as people fine-tuned ways to get around Facebook's earlier policies. "That's the sort of thing that we try to stay on top of," she said.

The company would try to strike a balance, she added, allowing phrases like "come and join our ranks" but not more explicit phrases that talk about battles or armies.

In a separate policy change, Rosen said Facebook would temporarily stop allowing all political ads on its services after polls close Nov. 3, reducing the potential for manipulation while votes are counted.

"While ads are an important way to express voice, we plan to temporarily stop running all social issue, electoral, or political ads in the U.S. after the polls close on November 3, to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse," he wrote in the blog post.

Rosen said that Facebook would notify advertisers when the policy would be lifted.

The post-election quiet period is similar to one that Google adopted last month for ads on its services, including YouTube.

Facebook has announced a series of policy changes in recent weeks as concerns persist about the platform’s impact on politics. On Tuesday, Facebook banned QAnon accounts across its services in a sweeping crackdown on the conspiracy theory. It has also said it will label posts from politicians declaring victory before results are in and ban ads with premature declarations of victory.

“If a candidate or party declares premature victory before a race is called by major media outlets, we will add more specific information in the notifications that counting is still in progress and no winner has been determined,” Rosen said in Wednesday’s post.

Facebook says it’s helped an estimated 2.5 million people register to vote in this year’s election.