- Facebook released a series of new policies aimed at fighting misinformation as the election draws closer. Those policies include removing posts that use COVID-19 as a way to discourage voting, and adding information labels to any post where a candidate preemptively declares victory.
- The policy that attracted the most attention was Facebook’s plans to not accept new political ads the week before the election, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg explaining that there may not be enough time to contest or fact check information in that limited time.
- Both sides have criticized this choice, with President Donald Trump’s campaign saying it goes too far by silencing political campaigns.
- Other critics think the measure does not do enough to combat misinformation and feel the platform should be doing more to monitor political speech and ads during this time.
Facebook Announces New Tools to Fight Election Misinformation
Facebook unveiled a slate of new policies Thursday that will be enacted to protect the upcoming election, including barring new political ads the week before Election Day.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a statement that in the final days leading up to the election, there may not be enough time to contest or fact check information in new political advertisements. Facebook has long faced pressure to limit or even ban political ads on the platform. Zuckerberg has usually opposed that idea, making this one of the strongest actions he has ever taken against the practice.
“This election is not going to be business as usual,” Zuckerberg wrote in a statement. “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy. That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”
In addition to not accepting new political ads, Facebook will also be removing posts that use COVID-19 to discourage voting, adding an informational label to posts that seek to delegitimize the outcome of the election or voting methods, and adding labels to posts made by politicians who might declare victory before the final results are in.
The site even plan to link to accurate results on those kinds of posts and is working with Reuters on providing election results and information. On top of that, the social media giant is working to register voters heading into November 3.
Zuckerberg expressed concern about how the public might respond in the likely event that it could take several days for election results to come in as a result of increased mail-in voting. He said that it is “important that we prepare for this possibility in advance and understand that there could be a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted.”
“I believe our democracy is strong enough to withstand this challenge and deliver a free and fair election,” Zuckerberg said in closing his statement. He suggested that it will take the work of political parties, candidates, election officials, media, and voters to make that happen.
Criticism of New Policies
These measures were met with backlash from figures on both sides of the political aisle. While the Joe Biden campaign has yet to issue an official statement about the news, President Donald Trump’s campaign condemned it, thinking it went too far in silencing political campaigns.
“In the last seven days of the most important election in our history, President Trump will be banned from defending himself on the largest platform in America,” Samantha Zager, the Trump campaign’s deputy national press secretary said in a statement. Though, despite the suggestions of this claim, political speech on the platform is not banned. Trump is still allowed to post during that week, the campaign is just not allowed to run new political advertisements.
On the other side of the debate, some thought Facebook’s new rules did not go far enough in fighting misinformation, which runs rampant on the site. Dipayan Ghosh, the co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s digital platforms and democracy project, told ABC News that the move is “narrow.”
“I think we have to acknowledge that in prohibiting new political advertising over that last week, the company is essentially volunteering the position that it believes that political ads have the potential to harm the democratic process,” Ghosh explained. “The question then is, why stop them just one week before Election Day? Especially in an election cycle when many people will have voted well before Election Day because of mail-in ballots or early voting.”
Media Matters president Angelo Carusone called these actions “pointless.”
“Of all of the issues with disinformation and extremism on Facebook — political ads are at the bottom of the list,” Carusone wrote in a statement. “Facebook’s signal-boosting right-wingers and lax policy enforcement are much bigger issues: It wasn’t Facebook’s political ads that brought the Kenosha killer to Wisconsin, after all.”
“This is just another PR stunt from Facebook. Don’t buy it,” he said.
Not all responses to Facebook’s new policy were negative, though. Some expressed optimism, albeit cautiously. Vanita Gupta, the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, believes that these policies have potential so long as they are executed properly.
She said that these plans are “significant improvements & come after much pressure from civil rights community.”
“But everything – any impact – rests on enforcement,” she added.
Claire Wardle, the U.S. director of First Draft, a nonprofit group that combats misinformation, told the Washington Post that she was pleasantly surprised by these new steps.
“It’s a strange feeling to read something by Mark Zuckerberg and say, ‘Yup, yup, yup,'” she said. “I’m pretty excited by it.”
See what others are saying: (ABC News) (Washington Post) (Politico)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.