As part of the ongoing drive by social media platforms to rein in misinformation ahead of this year’s presidential election, a number of ads from the Trump campaign have been removed by Facebook this week on the grounds that they make inaccurate and misleading claims about immigration and Covid-19. At least 38 versions of a misleading ad were seen by hundreds of thousands of people on Facebook before the social channel removed them on Wednesday.
According to the Facebook ad library for the Donald J. Trump Facebook page, the Trump campaign paid $10,000-$15,000 for the 15-second ads which were first run on September 30th, before being removed the same day.
Facebook removed the ads because they made unsubstantiated claims that acceptance of refugees would increase the American people’s risk of Covid-19. Featuring video footage of Trumps’ election rival Joe Biden discussing the border and asylum seekers, the ad claimed that Biden’s policies would increase the number of refugees from Somalia, Yemen and Syria by 700% without providing any evidence to back this up.
Facebook’s advertising policies clearly state that ads “must not contain content that asserts or implies personal attributes”, including, “direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs, age, sexual orientation or practices, gender identity, disability, medical condition (including physical or mental health), financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record, or name”.
Whilst a version of the ad can still be viewed in Facebook’s library, it is now inactive which means it is not being run across any of the company’s platforms. In a statement to NBC News, Facebook said that the ads were removed because they violated their policies. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said in a statement to NBC News that: “We rejected these ads because we don’t allow claims that people’s physical safety, health, or survival is threatened by people on the basis of their national origin or immigration status”.
The USA has reported more cases of Covid-19 than any other country in the world and President Trump has been vocal in blaming other countries for the virus, notably referring to it as the ‘China virus’ on a number of occasions. Many have deemed this to be a racial slur and, whilst one of the Trump campaign ads does not mention China, it does display the Chinese flag over a Covid-19 graphic.
Following the action taken this week to remove the ads, a statement was made by Courtney Parella of the Trump campaign which echoed the misleading claims and failed to provide a source for the figures in the ad. She said: “While President Trump took decisive action to restrict travel from China to slow the spread of coronavirus and saved countless lives, Joe Biden was busy calling the president xenophobic and armchair quarterbacking his pandemic response.”
This is not the first time that action has been taken against the Trump administration by social media platforms. In June this year, an ad was removed because it featured a Nazi symbol. Another ad was removed back in 2018 on the grounds that it violated Facebook’s rules relating to sensational content. Trump’s misleading campaign ads will cause a problem for the likes of Facebook who are still wounded from the last election and rumours of Russian interference and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Project manager, Rob Leathern of Facebook, tweeted this week that the company is changing its policies in a bid to prevent advertisements that delegitimise election results. The new policies prevent ads that make accusations of voter fraud, present methods of voting as corrupt or fraudulent or those which prematurely declare victory. These policy changes have taken immediate effect this week and apply to both Facebook and Instagram.
Although Trump’s misleading campaign ads regarding Covid-19 and refugees have been removed by Facebook, other controversial ads remain on the platform. One of these depicts Joe Biden with a photoshopped headphone to his ear, perpetuating an unfounded conspiracy theory that he cheated in the debates. The ads state that Biden refused to have his ears checked for devices prior to the candidate debate. More than 800 versions of this ad have been viewed by millions, with Facebook data showing most viewers are in key election states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. This conspiracy theory has since spread organically to other platforms. Videos espousing the theory have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. A spokesperson for TikTok has said that the company is working to remove such videos because they violate the platform’s policies on disinformation.