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Facebook to ban misleading census content

Facebook on Thursday announced it will ban posts, photos and other content including misleading information about the U.S. census in an attempt to stop interference in the once-a-decade count.

Advertisements that “portray census participation as useless or meaningless or advise people not to participate in the census” will also be barred starting next month under the new policy, even if they come from political figures, which are normally exempt from fact-checking.

Facebook over the summer had committed to fighting disinformation about the census, which is crucial to determining political representation and distribution of government resources.

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The social media giant’s new policy comes after discussions with civil rights groups who have raised concerns that content Facebook allows on the platform could hurt vulnerable communities.

Some of the those groups praised the company’s announcement, calling it the “most comprehensive policy to date to combat census interference efforts on its platform.” 

“The Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups have long raised serious concerns about this issue, and it appears that Facebook has finally listened,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of the the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition representing more than 200 national organizations, said in a statement.

“Notably, Facebook will hold all users, including politicians, accountable for adhering to this policy, an important step toward ensuring fair and full participation in the 2020 Census.”

Gupta warned, however, that “good policy is meaningless without proper enforcement” and pledged to remain vigilant about content that might interfere with the census.

With Thursday’s rules, Facebook will now remove content that misrepresents dates, locations, times, eligibility for or information needed to participate in the census. 

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“As the format of the census evolves, so do the ways that people share information about the census,” Kevin Martin, the vice president of U.S. public policy at Facebook, and Samidh Chakrabarti, the company’s director of product management for civic engagement, wrote in a blog post.

“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.”

The policy will begin to be implemented next month.

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