Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg apologized again Wednesday, as the company sought to keep up the pressure on a Washington that’s found its practices to be in violation of electoral law and unfair to rivals. But this time it’s also blacked out ads related to US midterm elections, as Republicans jumped on the move as an echo of pre-Obama years.
Zuckerberg told CNN he will be banning all election-related ads on Facebook in the US for a full week from 9 PM EDT June 8 to 9 PM EDT June 15.
“We’re going to make it so we will only run ads that we think are likely to influence public opinion in a safe way” said Zuckerberg. “We want to get ahead of the issue because we hear repeatedly that people want more transparency, want to be better informed and think that ads should be more accountable.”
Zuckerberg said Wednesday that he doesn’t want Facebook to be a place where “sad or divisive” things can thrive. That was the refrain of a Wednesday Facebook post.
“We believe in building a political system based on ideas and not people,” he wrote. “We believe in rising above our fears and creating a peaceful and equal society for everyone.”
Zuckerberg also went on a media blitz aimed at drawing a contrast with the presidency of Donald Trump. He sat down for an hour-long CNN interview and a second for the broadcast network.
Wednesday’s decision comes just days after Facebook announced the results of a politically engaged engagement survey that found that 91% of respondents in the US considered themselves “neutral” or “not politically affiliated” – a stark contrast to their approach four years ago, before the 2014 midterm elections.
In July 2014, Facebook announced that it would remove political ads aimed at influencing US federal elections from its platform starting Sept. 30.
The decision at the time was roundly criticized by digital privacy advocates and political opponents.
Facebook still stands accused of violating election laws, as it’s been running ads opposing some Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and condemning teachers union S.B. 1070.
“The truth is that conservatives are never going to see commercials not approved by the Trump campaign, so they don’t buy Facebook ads,” Jessica Ditto, an attorney and former spokeswoman for congressional Republican campaigns, told a group of reporters after Wednesday’s announcement.
Ditto said the Zuckerberg interview will be a missed opportunity to draw a line for Facebook to play nice, but she doubted the strategy would work.
“I don’t think it’s going to satisfy critics who have been screaming for it,” she said.
Members of the Republican National Committee threw up their hands and called for the party to partner with Facebook to operate similarly, if not better.
“Elections should not be bought and sold on social media,” said Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary under Trump. “Democrats already have rules. We’re calling on the RNC to follow their lead.”
Spicer called the move “a further black eye” on Facebook.
The committee also released a statement that read: “Facebook is denying their users, which is their basic responsibility, the right to use the tools on their platforms.”
While the exact number of Americans that use Facebook has been hard to determine, its largest US audience — 200 million in April – appear to be concentrated in the upper income and white demographic.
Even as they support the measures, Zuckerberg said Wednesday that he felt Facebook should have kept the midterm ads on their site during their last summer experiment.