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June 30 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc will ban ads that discourage people from voting ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, according to its second annual Civil Rights Audit published on Sunday.
Facebook pledged to put its new "don't vote" policy prohibition into effect in the fall, before the 2019 U.S. elections on Nov. 5, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post announcing the report. Last year, Facebook expanded its policies against voter suppression by banning posts that spread misinformation on voting methods, election dates and times, and polling locations. Those rules include banning intimidation tactics such as misrepresentations on whether votes will be counted.
The new "don't vote" policy is in its developmental stages and the company is seeking advice from voting organizations.
Facebook said the policy is likely to only apply in the United States in its initial release and will not include the policing of organic posts from users.
Facebook said it works proactively to remove malicious election-related content. The company is now encompassing "do not vote" ads in its efforts to ward off coordinated efforts to influence elections.
The social media giant has been used to spread misinformation about previous elections.
U.S. intelligence agencies say there was an extensive Russian cyber-influence operation during the 2016 campaign aimed at helping President Donald Trump get elected. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.
"We focused on ads because there is a targeted component in them," Facebook Public Policy Director Neil Potts said. "We recognize it as a political tactic, which is much more in line with voter suppression."
Ads telling people to "boycott the election" disproportionately targeted African American Facebook users, according to Ian Vandewalker, senior council at the Brennan Center for Justice.
The world's biggest social network also pledged to introduce a new misinformation policy in the fall ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census, prohibiting misrepresentations of Census requirements or methods, it said.
Facebook began conducting the annual Civil Rights Audit in 2018 to address concerns from underrepresented communities and advocacy groups on its platform.
The company has come under scrutiny over its hands-off approach to the content posted on its platform. It does not ban most forms of misinformation, instead posting warnings downgrading misleading material so it reaches fewer people.
Russian influence on U.S. elections has sparked heavy criticism of Facebook; however, it helped the company identify key tactics used in misinformation campaigns.
Facebook set up its first war room in October 2018 to combat misinformation campaigns during the U.S. midterm elections. Similar war rooms were set up this year in Brazil, India and Europe ahead of elections.
Facebook's next Civil Rights Audit progress report is set to be released early next year. (Reporting by Arriana McLymore; Editing by Kenneth Li and Phil Berlowitz)