Facebook has made good on its policy barring ads that mislead users about the upcoming U.S. Census and removed a set of Trump campaign ads that created some confusion and referred to a "Congressional District Census."
The ads, which appeared as sponsored posts by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, prompted users to text "TRUMP" to a number and told them, "President Trump needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today." Further, they said, "We need Patriotic Americans like YOU to respond to this census, so we can develop a winning strategy for YOUR STATE." Questions on the survey were then things like, "Do you think Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left are putting their personal anti-Trump agenda ahead of what’s best for the American people?" And the "census" collected people's names, ages, and contact info.
The actual U.S. Census is kicking off later this month with mailers to all Americans.
BREAKING: This AM https://t.co/Gl6evXRDcZ reported that the Trump campaign was running 1K+ ads on Facebook promoting a fake 2020 Census and Facebook will take no action— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 5, 2020
Just now, Facebook reversed course and said they will remove all the Trump census adshttps://t.co/YwXT2Y91EI
The misleading ads, which were first called out Wednesday by journalist Judd Legum in the newsletter Popular Information, subsequently became a topic in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's weekly press conference this morning.
As CNN Business reports, Pelosi said she was "particularly annoyed today by the actions of Facebook," calling the content of the ads "an absolute lie. A lie that is consistent with the misrepresentation policy of Facebook."
Facebook responded Thursday by yanking the ads, and spokesperson Andy Stone tells CNN, "There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census and this is an example of those being enforced."
As tech journalist Charlie Warzel writes on Twitter, this case is a "reminder that Facebook essentially relies on independent journalists like Judd to act as unpaid content moderators and that even though they employ their own resources to do this work."
It should be noted that this is also an example of a falsehood being pushed by a political ad — which is something Facebook has take a firm stance to allow. The company came under fire last fall after CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly stated that the company would not work to police or remove political ads that contained lies, saying it was up to the American people to decide what to believe. Democrats have consistently decried the policy as likely to favor the president's reelection campaign — and a previously undisclosed dinner at the White House shared by Zuckerberg, Mr. and Mrs. Trump, and Republican donor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel was widely seen as proof that Zuckerberg is trying to placate this administration.
In some recent remarks at the World Economic Forum at Davos, billionaire and frequent Facebook critic George Soros said that there seemed to be "an informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook," and he predicted that Facebook would give a repeat performance from 2016 and help Trump get reelected this year.
But many at Facebook have argued that Trump's campaign machine, specifically their digital ad strategy, is what won him the election in 2016, and it could be ads like the one above that help him again.
Photo via Donald J. Trump/Facebook