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Facebook to Tackle Efforts to Interfere With 2020 US Census

FILE - Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.
FILE - Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

Facebook says it will clamp down on efforts to use its services to interfere with the 2020 U.S. census, including the posting of misleading information about when and how to participate, who can participate and what happens to people who do.

The social media giant said Thursday that it is also prohibiting advertisements that portray taking part in the census as “useless or meaningless” or that encourage people not to participate.

Facebook is trying to clamp down on misinformation on its services, especially ahead of next year's U.S. presidential elections.

The census, which happens every 10 years, is crucial to determining how many representatives a state gets in Congress and which states get billions of dollars in federal funding for infrastructure, health care, low-income programs and other projects. The results of the 2020 census also will be used to redraw electoral maps.

Facebook said it will begin enforcing the census policy in January using both technology and humans to spot violations. Facebook will try to identify material that violates the policy and remove it before people see it.

Facebook and other social media companies have similar policies around voter suppression, banning misleading information about when and where to vote, for instance.

Facebook has long tried to steer clear of having to police its content, claiming it is a platform, not a publisher. But after revelations that that Russians bankrolled thousands of fake political ads during the 2016 elections, Facebook and other social networks faced intense pressure to ensure that doesn't happen again. It tightened political ad requirements including verifying political ad buyers and archiving all political ads for the public. But many have found ways to slip through the cracks of the system.

False and inaccurate information is already circulating online about the census. For example, posts in neighborhood chat groups warned that robbers were scamming their way into people's homes by asking to check residents' identification for the census. That was a hoax, but it left Census Bureau officials scrambling to get the posts removed from Facebook.

Facebook has been under fire for its policy of not fact checking political advertisements on its service, which critics say allows politicians to lie and then pay Facebook to amplify their lies. The company says that all ads on its service are subject to its community standards, which now include the census interference policy. False information doesn't always violate the community standards, however.

Google is also trying to prevent misinformation about the census from spreading. It set up a team to focus on preventing hoaxes and misleading information, and expanded a YouTube policy to make it clear that misinformation about the census is prohibited on the site and will be taken down.