In anticipation of a contested election result, Google is banning its partners from running ads related to the race after Election Day. In an email to advertisers, the company said that an “unprecedented” number of ballots will be counted after November 3rd. That’s because so many voters will likely make use of mail-in ballots amid the pandemic.
However, President Trump’s frequent diatribes against mail-in voting, as well as recent comments about the role the Supreme Court might play in the upcoming election, all suggest that the election’s result will take significantly longer to confirm than is normal. As a result, Google fears that ads could spread misinformation between Election Day and the final certification of a winner.
The campaigns for Trump or Joe Biden, for instance, could run ads on Google following Election Day that prematurely declare victory. That would lead to massive confusion, and cripple faith in an ultimate result, says Google. As such, it will block ads that mention the election, its results, or that target people based on election-related searches. The standard will apply across the company’s platforms, including Google Ads and YouTube.
Media Gears Up
Last month, Facebook also announced measures to limit potential misinformation following Election Day. The social network will ban all new political ads the week before the election. Additionally, it will block ads from political campaigns that declare early victory.
As the slow tabulation of mail-in ballots threatens to elongate the result period, the media will play an outsized role in legitimizing the election. Thus, the media must make an effort to withhold any announcement of victory until local authorities have certified the vote. While that is easy enough for mainstream media outlets, the challenge is different on social media platforms, where any individual can spread information. As a result, it will be up to the gatekeepers of the country’s major social media platforms to curb the spread of false information.
To this point social media companies have taken the position that they are merely platforms for the expression of free speech. It appears that they are beginning to recognize their role as arbiters of truth in the public square.