Facebook and Google have quietly extended their bans on political advertising beyond their planned one-week post-election moratorium, as US president Donald Trump and his supporters continue to use the platforms to share claims of a stolen poll.
Both companies are continuing to block election-related advertising, following an initial week-long blackout after the November 3 vote.
The extension comes as online momentum builds around Mr Trump’s claims that widespread voter fraud allowed his Democrat opponents to “steal the election”, which he said he would otherwise have won.
Meanwhile, president-elect Joe Biden’s staff have claimed Facebook, in particular, is not doing enough to prevent the “Stop the Steal” narrative from gaining traction and has failed to stamp out calls for violence. On Monday, Bill Russo, Mr Biden’s head of press, accused the company on Twitter of “shredding the fabric of our democracy”.
Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has long refused to fact-check political advertising on the basis that private sector companies should not be the “arbiter of truth”. However, following pressure from critics, the company made concessions to his hard line on free expression, announcing shortly before the election that it would block new political advertisements in the week leading up to the vote and all advertisements during the week after at least.
“Advertisers can expect this to last for a week, though this is subject to change,” the company said at the time, flagging that the ban could be extended for longer if necessary as it sought “to reduce opportunities for confusion or abuse”.
Separately, Google also told advertisers in September that it would enact a ban for at least seven days, and review the situation on a weekly basis after that, according to Axios.
Google confirmed with the Financial Times that the blackout was still in effect, but would not share further details on when it might lift.
Facebook said its ban was still in place as a precaution to protect against post-election civil unrest, and that it would communicate further updates to advertisers.
Still, several advertisers complained that they had not been notified of the decision to extend the ban, despite reaching out to the companies for clarity.
“We’ve been asking for updated guidance from Facebook and haven’t heard from them since last week . . . which has been frustrating,” said Eric Reif, managing director of progressive campaigns consulting firm eStreet Group.
Advertisers and experts have mixed views on when the ban should ease. Some have called for the social media groups to keep political advertising disabled until Mr Trump concedes or the result is certified, lest the president uses tools to target unproven claims at users.
Others have argued that political advertising should be reinstated, particularly as the ban has prevented candidates from sharing messages and fundraising in Georgia, where there is a Senate runoff.
The uncertainty comes as the social media platforms grapple with a rising tide of post-poll misinformation. Facebook last week invoked emergency measures to make it harder for users to share posts that contained misleading information and restricted their circulation.
Separately on Tuesday, the company published a statement defending itself against allegations from leftwing critics that its algorithm promoted provocative content and misinformation, often resulting in rightwing pundits going viral. It also said that political content made up only about 6 per cent of what US users saw on the platform, and that its emergency measures remained in place.
Meanwhile, Google’s YouTube has been accused of allowing certain misinformation to stay on its platform, despite protests.