By Elizabeth Culliford and Katie Paul
(Reuters) – As election misinformation continued to rage online, Facebook Inc <FB.O> said on Wednesday its post-election ban on political ads would likely last another month, raising concerns from campaigns and groups eager to reach voters for key Georgia Senate races in January.
Facebook, which had announced the ban as part of measures to combat misinformation and other abuses on its site, had previously said the ban would last at least a week but could be extended. Alphabet Inc’s Google <GOOGL.O> also appeared to be sticking with its post-election political ad ban.
“While multiple sources have projected a presidential winner, we still believe it’s important to help prevent confusion or abuse on our platform,” Facebook told advertisers in an email seen by Reuters, which told advertisers to expect the pause to last another month though there “may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner.”
Baseless claims about the election reverberated around social media this week as President Donald Trump continued to challenge the validity of the outcome, even as state officials reported no significant irregularities and legal experts cautioned he had little chance to overturn Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Google declined to answer questions about the length of its ad pause. A Google spokeswoman previously said the company would lift the ban based on factors such as the time needed for votes to be counted and whether there was civil unrest.
The bans mean that the platforms are not currently accepting election ads ahead of the two U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia that could decide control of that chamber.
“It is driving us absolutely bonkers,” said Mark Jablonowski, managing partner of DSPolitical, a digital firm that works with Democratic causes.
“They’re essentially holding the rest of the political process hostage,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist, who said he thought the companies’ concerns about ads on the election outcome did not require a blanket ban. “This is something that deserves a scalpel and they’re using a rusty ax,” he added.
Social media companies declined to say when they would lift other “break-glass” measures introduced to curb election misinformation and calls for violence in unpaid posts, like Facebook’s limits on the distribution of live videos and demotions on content that its systems predict may be misinformation.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said those emergency measures would not be permanent, but added that rollback was “not imminent.”
“The reality is right now that we are not through the danger zone,” said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Democratic strategists, including members of the Biden campaign who tweeted criticism of Facebook, this week said social media companies still were not effectively combating the spread of viral lies.
In one Facebook group created on Sunday, which rapidly grew to more than 350,000 members by Tuesday, members calling for a nationwide recount swapped unfounded accusations about alleged election fraud and shifting state vote counts every few seconds.
Nina Jankowitz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, said the ad pauses were needed though not sufficient for tackling false information.
“Clearly President Trump does not think the election is over so I don’t think the platforms should treat it as if it does,” she said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford and Ayanti Bera; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)