San Francisco (AFP)

Facebook now gives its users the possibility to deactivate all political advertising, in the hope of appeasing the heated debate on its approach often considered too lax in terms of moderation of the remarks of the candidates for the elections.

The option is deployed from Wednesday in the United States, 5 months before the presidential election. It will be extended to other countries on the most popular network in the world as well as on the Instagram application.

It allows you to block all ads paid for by candidates or political groups.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (Google) and their competitors are engaged in a schizophrenic struggle at times against disinformation, since they must at the same time ensure freedom of expression and remain open to political debates.

After the debacle of 2016, an election year marked by vast operations of manipulation of voters via the networks, the platforms took measures, such as fact-checking programs.

This fall, Twitter has simply banned political ads, and allows itself to intervene in the event of a violation of its rules, even if it is a question of punishing heads of state, such as Jair Bolsonaro or Donald Trump. .

Facebook, for its part, authorizes this type of ad and refuses to subject the comments of political figures to fact-checking (their messages remain subject to general rules against terrorism, the praise of violence or even false practical information on the polls).

- Warm welcome -

A bias that angered some, including the Democratic candidate for the White House, Joe Biden, who accused the President of rampant disinformation.

"Everyone wants politicians to be held accountable for what they say, and I know many people would like us to moderate and take more of their content," Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg admitted in a letter. report published Tuesday evening on USA Today.

"But we can only hold them to account if we see what the candidates are saying, even if we viscerally hate what they have to say," he continued, in his usual public interest argument. to get informed.

The new option did not arouse the enthusiasm of observers.

Adam Chiara, a specialist in social networks and politics, essentially sees it as a public relations operation which "does nothing to help rid the platform of toxic comments".

"I would be curious to know how many people will activate the option," notes this professor at the University of Hartford.

"Lots of users don't even change their default privacy settings, so how many will bother doing that?"

- "Relocated" moderation -

Facebook is "outsourcing" content moderation to its users, said Shannon McGregor, a professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina.

This option also risks "reinforcing the advantage of outgoing candidates", she added, because certain advertisements allow candidates less covered by the media to make themselves known to voters.

"In the end, I think the best way to make politicians accountable is through voting," said Mark Zuckerberg.

He set his network the goal of helping put four million more Americans on the electoral roll for the November presidential election and launched "the largest electoral information campaign in American history".

"Facebook has a responsibility not only to prevent people from being deprived of the right to vote - an issue that disproportionately affects people of color - but also to actively support the registration and mobilization of knowledgeable voters ", he added.

© 2020 AFP