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Facebook bans misleading posts and ads about US census

The new rules also apply to politicians.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook is banning misleading posts and ads that aim to prevent people from participating in the 2020 US census. The social media giant, which has been under fire for not fact-checking ads from politicians, said Thursday that the new rules also cover politicians who try to suppress census participation.

Facebook users will be barred from misrepresenting when, where and how to participate in the census. The company also won't allow ads that portray census participation as "useless or meaningless."

The census, which takes place every 10 years, helps determine which states and communities get billions of dollars in federal funding and the number of seats each state gets in Congress. 

The new rules are in line with the company's past moves to tackle misleading information and suppression efforts. Facebook, for example, doesn't allow users to post misinformation about when and where to vote. Civil rights advocates applauded the company for introducing a new policy to tackle census misinformation but noted that its success will depend on how well Facebook enforces these new rules.

'This updated policy is only as good as its enforcement and transparency, which, to be clear, is an area that Facebook has failed in the past," said Rashad Robinson, president of national civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, in a statement.

Facebook said it'll be enforcing its policies starting next month. A team of reviewers working with consultants who have census expertise will look at whether the content runs afoul of the company's new policies, Facebook said Thursday in a blog post. If the content doesn't violate its rules but still contains misinformation, Facebook will send it to third-party fact-checkers and reduce its spread if it's rated false.

The US Census Bureau has also asked other tech companies, such as Google and Twitter, to help combat fake news, Reuters reported. Google-owned YouTube also has a policy that bars misleading content about the census.

Misinformation about the census is already floating around on social media. One hoax claims that robbers were trying to get into people's homes by pretending to ask them to confirm their IDs for the upcoming census, according to fact-checker Snopes.

"As the format of the census evolves, so do the ways that people share information about the census," Kevin Martin, Facebook's vice president of US public policy, and Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook's director of product management for civic engagement, said in a blog post. "This means we have to be more vigilant about protecting against census interference across posts and ads on Facebook and Instagram."