Facebook Bans Misleading Information About How to Participate in the US Census

Facebook continues its confusing approach to content moderation with a new announcement that it will ban any misleading information about when and how to participate in the upcoming US census, as well as any false reports pertaining to the consequences of participating in the national survey.

As explained by Facebook:

“Next year, all US households will be able to complete the US census online for the first time. As the format of the census evolves, so do the ways that people share information about the census. This means we have to be more vigilant about protecting against census interference across posts and ads on Facebook and Instagram and help promote an accurate count of every person in the country.”

Specifically, Facebook’s census policy will prohibit

  • Misrepresentation of the dates, locations, times and methods for census participation;
  • Misrepresentation of who can participate in the census and what information and/or materials must be provided in order to participate;
  • Content stating that census participation may or will result in law enforcement consequences; 
  • Misrepresentation of government involvement in the census, including that an individual’s census information will be shared with another government agency; and
  • Calls for coordinated interference that would affect an individual’s ability to participate in the census, enforcement of which often requires additional information and context.

Facebook will use machine learning tools to detect violations, with enforcement going into effect from January 1st.

Oh, and also:

“…content that violates our census interference policy will not be allowed to remain on our platforms as newsworthy even if posted by a politician.”

So census misinformation will be banned, even if its from a politician. But political ads, in general, still won’t be fact-checked. Confusing, right?

It’s confusing in that Facebook has effectively acknowledged that its platform plays a key role in the dissemination of such information, which is why it needs to take strong action to ensure that it halts its spread. But that same principle would apply to all misinformation, including in political ads. So why such a firm stance on one and not the other?

Facebook has, of course, argued that there are many gray areas with political campaign claims, and it’s not as simple as saying ‘this is true’ and ‘this is not’. But it still seems like a conflict – political shifts, no matter how you look at it, are now being fueled through Facebook and its 2.4 billion users. Taking a ‘hands-off’ approach, in any respect, will leave the platform open for scrutiny.

But then again, Facebook deserves some praise for taking such a strong line on census misinformation, in order to ensure the integrity of the census data. That’s a good thing, but it is difficult to match the varying approaches to these somewhat related elements. 

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