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The CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg announced this morning, Sept. 3 that Facebook will be operating under a new policy as the country approaches the 2020 election. It will not accept any political advertising the week prior to the Nov. 3 election. Further, says Zuckerberg, it will remove any posts from any sources that appear to suppress the vote or voter turnout and won’t allow postings that declare premature victory.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Image courtesy of Wibw.

The move is a new step for Facebook, which has come under intense criticism for its handling of advertising and social messaging in the build-up to the 2016 and 2018 elections. The platform came under fire for refusing to fact-check or remove certain political content for years.

U.S. intelligence, including the CIA and the NSA confirmed that during 2016, Facebook was infiltrated by Russian “trolls” and bots, and entities actively working to disparage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, while actively advancing messaging about then-candidate Donald Trump.

Russian front men set up thousands of fake social media accounts, pretending to be regular American citizens, infiltrating social groups, passing off links to fake news stories, and fanning the flames of division. They also used ads on the Facebook website to spread controversial topics that may have stoked political division.

“The U.S. elections are just two months away, and with COVID-19 affecting communities across the country, I’m concerned about the challenges people could face when voting,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post published the morning of Sept. 3. “I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”

According to the Washington Post, the social media’s decision to block new political advertising is in response to criticism of its laissez-faire attitude, not just in prior elections, but recently. Zuckerberg’s announcement added that while Facebook will protect free speech, it will also block attempts by anyone to declare premature victory, or otherwise seek communications advantage.

In one additional gesture, Facebook says it will block the number of people to whom a message can be forwarded on Facebook Messenger. According to Facebook, it’s a bid to halt misinformation from going viral.

The response from the Trump campaign appears predictable. “When millions of voters will be making their decisions, the president will be silenced by the Silicon Valley Mafia, who will at the same time allow corporate media to run their biased ads to swing voters in key states,” said the Trump campaign’s Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager in a post on the campaign’s Facebook page.

The Mueller Report began with a strong warning about what this Russian interference means to Americans ‘free and fair’ election process. A report to the United States Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and interference in the 2016 Election confirmed in no uncertain terms that this activity is not just in our past — it is going on now, and two months before the election, some say it appears to be accelerating.

The meddling isn’t just paid advertising, it is social influence. According to Politico’s interview with Media Matters President Angelo Caruso, she said ads are “at the bottom of the list” as far as disinformation concerns on Facebook. A more pressing concern is that the company has still failed to adequately address posts from right-wing extremists and others spreading hateful or manipulative messages.

But Senator Mark Warner (D- Va.) who is also vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee sounded a more positive note, saying “the real test will be the measures Facebook will take to enforce these new policies. We’ve seen in a range of contexts — from COVID misinformation to violent right-wing militias — that Facebook frequently has relevant policies in place but fails to meaningfully enforce them.”

As written into law by the founders of our country, it is illegal for foreign governments to interfere in United States elections. Normally this country’s leadership, especially the executive branch of government, have been vocal opponents of any meddling by foreign governments. But the Trump administration has not only been silent on the topic, during the 2016 election Trump actually said in a speech, “Russia if you’re listening…” asking them to release Clinton campaign emails that they had acquired through dubious means.

This past summer from the White House lawn, Trump while on the air, invited Russia, China and other foreign governments to meddle in the 2020 election.