Facebook says it has helped an estimated 2.5 million people register to vote this year across all of its platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. The company has been displaying banners atop users' feeds that show them how they can register to vote in their state.
That 2.5 million number is more than the two million people it helped in 2016 but it's far from Facebook's goal to help four million people before the upcoming election, with only a little more than a month left to go. It says it will continue to show the banners on user's feeds through September 25th.
Besides helping people register to vote, Facebook has also been encouraging eligible voters to volunteer as poll workers in order to alleviate a shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will give its own employees a paid day off if they'd like to participate.
What about voter suppression? — Facebook is simultaneously trying to combat voter suppression, like posts from President Trump that have questioned the integrity of mail-in voting as many voters are excepted to cast ballots by mail in order to protect themselves from COVID-19. There's no history of widespread voter fraud or evidence that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud.
Critics say that labeling Trump's posts with links to bipartisan information sources isn't going far enough, as his supporters believe tech companies are biased and therefore likely won't pay any attention to fact-checks. Facebook will stop accepting new political ads a week before the election but states like Virginia have already begun voting, so that deadline seems a little arbitrary and ineffective.
The poisoned well — A recent story from Bloomberg argued that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has used Facebook's free speech principles as cover to protect Trump and the right-wing from censorship of misleading or dangerous content. Leaders recently overrode a ban of conservative page PragerU for spreading COVID-19 misinformation because the brand was spending a lot of money on Facebook ads.
In a sense, Facebook is bragging that it has helped people drink from the well it poisoned; before you listen to arguments that we're harming democracy, look at all these people we signed up to vote. It's increasingly clear that its open platform and engagement algorithms enable unprecedented spread of sensational information and that the company is unwilling to change for fear of reprisal from conservatives.
The New York Times reported last week that in states where voting has begun, lines are exceptionally long even though election administrators have urged people to vote by mail.