Election 2020

Facebook will protect users from itself for a limited time only

The recommendation algorithm was quietly suspended ahead of the election.

Hourglass on blue background, sandglass 3d rendering

Facebook stealthily pulled the plug on its recommendation algorithm, but it will likely get turned back on post-election. The move was mentioned during Wednesday’s Senate hearing and has been confirmed by BuzzFeed News. The polarizing effect the algorithm has on political radicalization has remained a constant thorn in Facebook’s side — which it’s been slow to pull out.

Maybe just leave it off? — Turning off the recommendation algorithm for social and political issues applies to existing and new groups, according to Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois. She went on to tell BuzzFeed News that, “This is a measure we put in place in the lead-up to Election Day. We will assess when to lift them afterwards, but they are temporary."

It's a situation that has many parallels. There’s a beach sign in Long Beach, California that goes up from time to time to warn patrons about going into the water. The beach’s proximity to the bustling port of Los Angeles is to blame, and it makes one think, “if the sign goes up sometimes, it’s probably never truly safe to get in there.” Similarly, if Facebook is determining, even for a moment, that its political recommendations are harmful to democracy, it should probably axe that tool. It can clearly just leave it on for its Marketplace and users’ musical interests, so why not protect elections around the world?

Facebook’s general response to this election has involved a mix of somewhat effective permanent and more effective temporary measures, and Mark Zuckerberg has even said the company won’t add new ones once the year is through. But after a year of Band-Aids, the company may bleed more than it can anticipate.