Washington (AFP)

Attacked for its laxity in the face of disinformation and the manipulation of content, the social media giant Facebook announced Thursday that no new political advertising could be broadcast on its platform in the week preceding the US presidential election on November 3.

Advertisers may, however, continue to serve shared ads prior to this period, as they are added to Facebook's ad library.

"This election will not be a usual election. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy", justified the boss of the Californian giant Mark Zuckerberg in a post on his personal Facebook page.

"It consists of helping people register and vote, to dispel confusion over how this election works and to take measures to reduce the risks of violence and social unrest," he said. he continued.

In this regard, Mr. Zuckerberg said he was worried about possible violent movements to challenge the results, which may not be known with certainty for "days or even weeks".

For this reason, he announced that if a candidate or party tries to claim victory before all results are known, a link on their post will redirect readers to the official results.

Among other measures, Facebook has pledged to withdraw posts assuring that going to vote would result in contamination with the coronavirus, to limit the sharing of articles on Messenger chat to prevent disinformation posts from going viral and to fight against attempts to restrict the right to vote through false publications.

This hardening of policy comes as the platform had so far chosen to prioritize freedom of expression and allow political ads when its rival Twitter banned them in 2019.

Mark Zuckerberg's company has been particularly criticized for allowing massive influence campaigns, mainly orchestrated from Russia, to spread during the 2016 presidential election.

This year, social networks are bracing for other disaster scenarios where their platforms would be used to challenge the results of the vote.

Donald Trump thus regularly questions the reliability of postal voting, a method popular in the United States, and crucial during a pandemic.

- Mixed reactions -

Facebook's decisions have been hailed as a step in the right direction by several American civil rights movements.

"Facebook's announcements on the regulation of disinformation about voting, including from politicians, and on the defense of a fair election are important progress," said Vanita Gupta, president of the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights group.

"But everything depends on their implementation. We will remain vigilant," she added.

Several relatives and supporters of Donald Trump, on the other hand, sharply criticized the new measures, believing that they played into the hands of the opponents of the American president.

"Facebook gives in even more to the left and will remove the 'new' ads the week before the election," responded Tom Fitton, president of the conservative organization Judicial Watch.

"This is an incredible attempt to control what Facebook users see at a crucial time and it raises concerns about the First Amendment (which notably protects freedom of expression in the United States, editor's note)", a- he regretted.

But criticism has also come from groups close to the Democrats, who consider the announcements totally inappropriate in the current context.

"A weeklong censorship of new political ads leading up to the most important election in our nation's history is a hollow and dangerous public relations operation, not a solution to the spread of election disinformation and hate speech that incites violence, "lamented Tara McGowan, whose organization Acronym specializes in providing strategic advice to Democratic candidates.

"Right-wing publications like Breitbart, Federalist and the Daily Caller can reach millions of voters with lies and disinformation every day on Facebook without spending a dollar on advertising," McGowan said in a statement.

© 2020 AFP