As election misinformation raged online, Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday its post-election ban on political ads would likely last another month, raising concerns from campaigns and groups eager to reach voters for key Georgia Senate races in January.
The ban, one of Facebook's measures to combat misinformation and other abuses on its site, was supposed to last about a week but could be extended. Alphabet Inc.'s Google also appeared to be sticking with its post-election political ad ban.
"While multiple sources have projected a presidential winner, we still believe it's important to help prevent confusion or abuse on our platform," Facebook told advertisers in an email seen by Reuters. It said to expect the pause to last another month though there "may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner."
Facebook later confirmed the extension in a blog post.
Baseless claims about the election reverberated around social media this week as President Donald Trump challenged the validity of the outcome, even as state officials reported no significant irregularities, and legal experts cautioned he had little chance to overturn Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
In one Facebook group created on Sunday, which rapidly grew to nearly 400,000 members by Wednesday, members calling for a nationwide recount swapped unfounded accusations about alleged election fraud and shifting state vote counts every few seconds.
"The reality is right now that we are not through the danger zone," said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Google declined to answer questions about the length of its ad pause, although one advertiser said the company had floated the possibility of extending it through or after December. A Google spokeswoman previously said the company would lift its ban based on factors such as the time needed for votes to be counted and whether there was civil unrest.
The extensions mean that the top two digital advertising behemoths, which together control more than half the market, are not accepting election ads ahead of the two U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia that could decide control of that chamber.
Democratic and Republican digital strategists who spoke to Reuters railed against those decisions, saying the ad bans were overly broad and failed to combat a much bigger problem on the platforms: the organic spread of viral lies in unpaid posts.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, along with the Senate campaigns of Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, called for an exemption for the Georgia Senate run-offs so they could make voters aware of upcoming deadlines.
Ossoff faces incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, and Warnock faces incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
"It is driving us absolutely bonkers," said Mark Jablonowski, managing partner of DSPolitical, a digital firm that works with Democratic causes.
"They're essentially holding the rest of the political process hostage," said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist, who said he thought the companies' concerns about ads on the election outcome did not require a blanket ban. "This is something that deserves a scalpel and they're using a rusty ax," he added.
The companies declined to say when they would lift other "break-glass" election measures introduced for unpaid posts, like Facebook's limits on the distribution of live videos and demotions of content that its systems predict may be misinformation.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said those emergency measures would not be permanent, but that rollback was "not imminent."
Google's YouTube, which is labeling all election-related videos with information about the outcome, said it would stick with that approach "as long as it's necessary."
The video-sharing company bans "demonstrably false" claims about the election process, but has used the tool sparingly, saying hyperbolic statements about a political party "stealing" the election does not violate the policy.
However, Twitter Inc. has stopped using its most restrictive election-related warning labels, which hid and limited engagement on violating tweets. Instead, the company is now using lighter-touch labels that "provide additional context," spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said.
Twitter placed a label reading "this claim about election fraud is disputed" on two of Trump's tweets Tuesday morning, but each was retweeted more than 80,000 times by that evening.
Democratic strategists, including members of the Biden campaign who tweeted criticism of Facebook, said social media companies' measures were not effectively curbing the spread of viral lies.
Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, said the ad pauses were needed but not sufficient for tackling false information.
"Clearly President Trump does not think the election is over, so I don't think the platforms should treat it as if it is," she said.