Facebook announced on Thursday that the company will remove posts containing false information about the U.S. Census, including advertisements bought by politicians.
The policy announcement comes six months after Facebook said it would oppose online efforts to mislead people about the 2020 Census. The company has been working with the US Census Bureau and civil rights groups for months to develop rules that prevent census interference.
The results of the census determine how many congressional seats each state receives, and it informs a wide range of government decisions such as local city council districts and funding for education and public services. Even businesses rely on census data when deciding where to open stores or ship goods.
Lawmakers and civil rights groups have been pressuring tech companies to prepare for a coordinated online efforts to turn people away from the census. Among the trolls’ expected targets are African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority populations who are already underrepresented in census data.
The new policy, outlined in a Facebook blog post, will ban “misleading information about when and how to participate in the census and the consequences of participating.” It also will affect advertisements that “portray census participation as useless or meaningless” or otherwise “advise people not to participate in the census.”
According to the blogpost, the policy will be enforced by a “team of reviewers who will benefit from the training and guidance of a consultant with census expertise.”
The fact that the policy will apply to political advertisements may come as a bit of a surprise to some who recall that Facebook resisted public pressure to remove President Trump’s false advertisements back in October. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the decision in a speech at Georgetown University where he argued that “people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”
In this way, Facebook’s new census interference policy shows that the company’s approach to political advertisements is subject to change.