With the election just a few weeks away, technology and social media companies are ramping up information about how to vote this fall in an effort to change the narrative about the role they played in election interference in 2016.

All of the major platforms — Google, Facebook, and Twitter — have pledged to make changes surrounding political advertising and stemming misinformation that seemed to run largely unchecked in the last presidential election. The focus this time, they say, will be on encouraging people to register to vote and providing voting information from trusted sources, rather than political campaigns or unknown publishers.

In August, Google announced its elections initiative, which provides verified information to voters searching for things like “how to vote” and ramps up messaging about voting on the site’s home page — one of the most visited pages on the Internet. 

Google has also introduced the Civic Information API, which allows local organizations to display information about candidates and polling places in their area. The project is a partnership with The Voting Information Project. 

Facebook estimates that it’s helped 2.5 million people register to vote this November, and it hopes to get to 4 million new registrants by Election Day. The registration campaign runs across Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram — all platforms that are owned by Facebook.

The company has also launched a Voting Information Center that includes information on how to register to vote, request mail-in or absentee ballots, and become a poll worker. In addition, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company will prohibit all political ads seven days before the election.

“I’m worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country. This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Zuckerberg said

Candidates from both parties see Facebook advertising as a critical way to reach voters, and the decision to limit advertising was met with criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans see the move as an infringement on free speech and civil liberties, while Democrats see it as hindering get out the vote efforts that are key to their victories this fall.

Twitter announced last fall that it would ban political advertising, which CEO Jack Dorsey hoped would help start a trend among other platforms.

“We’re well aware we’re a small part of a much larger political advertising ecosystem,” Dorsey said. “Some might argue our actions today could favor incumbents. But we have witnessed many social movements reach massive scale without any political advertising. I trust this will only grow.” 

Twitter’s policy only applies to paid political advertising, which accounted for a small portion of its overall revenue, and news publishers can request an exemption for ads that reference political content.

These actions represent moves by tech companies to both account for failures in 2016 but also grapple the role that they play in providing election information, particularly during a pandemic when candidates, campaigns, and election officials are unable to use traditional methods of getting information out to voters.


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