- From Sep. 25 to Oct. 1, the Trump campaign spent over $US1.6 million on Facebook ads, many of which included false or misleading claims.
- Facebook took down one of these ads – which referred to Joe Biden as a ‘b–ch’ – because it violated its ad policy against profanity.
- The Trump campaign then revised the ad to include a debunked claim about Biden, and this ad was allowed to stay up because Facebook ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking.
- Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic officials have challenged Facebook’s misinformation policies, asserting that the social media platform is promoting Trump’s lies, and making money by doing so.
Donald Trump is allowed to lie in Facebook ads, but he can’t curse.
In the three days after Trump’s impeachment inquiry was announced on Sep. 24, the Trump campaign spent $US1 million on Facebook ads, many of which included false or misleading claims.
One of these Trump ads even referred to Joe Biden as a ‘b–ch’ – which violated Facebook’s ad policies against profanity and was taken down upon review, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider.
The Trump campaign then revised the ad, updating it to include a debunked claim about Biden. It was accepted because Facebook does not submit ads from politicians for third-party fact checking.
The ad, which ran on Facebook in a few different variations, claimed that “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $US1 billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” according to Facebook’s ads library.
In its misinformation policy for ads, Facebook says that it “prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organisations with particular expertise.”
However, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that ads from politicians are not eligible for third-party fact-checking review. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications, publicly announced these policies in a Facebook blog post on Sep. 24.
In total, the Trump campaign spent over $US1.6 million on Facebook ads from Sep. 25 to Oct. 1, according to Facebook’s ads library (comparatively, Elizabeth Warren spent $US285,000 and Biden spent $US122,000 in the same period).
On Monday night, Warren challenged Facebook on the suspicious timing of its misinformation policies, calling into question a private meeting between Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Sep. 19.
After that meeting, Facebook quietly changed its policies on “misinformation” in ads, allowing politicians to run ads that have already been debunked by independent, non-partisan fact-checkers. Put another way, Facebook is now okay with running political ads with known lies.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 7, 2019
Warren cited Judd Legum’s reporting on Popular Information, which asserts that Facebook had recently changed its advertising policies on misinformation, thereby allowing Trump to lie in ads.
But according to Facebook, its policies have not changed, and political figures have been exempt from the fact-checking process for more than a year now, depicted in its eligibility guidelines. Clegg’s speech summarized as much:
“We don’t believe that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny. That’s why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program. We have had this policy on the books for over a year now, posted publicly on our site under our eligibility guidelines. This means that we will not send organic content or ads from politicians to our third-party fact-checking partners for review.”
However, it is true that Facebook recently changed the wording of its misinformation policy – instead of “Misinformation,” section 13 was previously titled “Misleading or False Content” and largely governed deceptive claims and business practices.
Facebook has moved this down to section 31 and 32 of its policies, which are now titled “Misleading Claims” and “Unacceptable Business Practices.” It appears that Facebook is trying to delineate more specifically between misinformation in a public interest capacity, and misleading content in a business capacity.
A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that these recent announcements and policy tweaks are meant to provide transparency ahead of US and global elections.
With Trump ratcheting up his Facebook ad spending and deceitful rhetoric, the platform’s policy decisions will continue to be scrutinised. And while Facebook believes it is staying impartial by doing little to regulate political speech, it may actually be helping Trump in doing so.
I have a feeling that many people in tech will see Warren's thread implying FB empowers Trump over Warren as unfair. But Mark, by deciding to allow outright lies in political ads to travel on Facebook, is embracing the philosophy behind Trumpism and thereby tipping the scales. https://t.co/s0RVNuBEhJ
— Chris Hughes (@chrishughes) October 8, 2019
Facebook does not have an envious position. Its policies are complex and difficult to understand, with countless rules and separate exceptions for advertising, original content, fact-checking, and more.
When Facebook doesn’t regulate political speech, it disregards truth and responsibility. But if Facebook did regulate political speech, it would have to devise even more complex policies, and there would be widespread complaints of bias – something it clearly does not want to deal with.
For now, Facebook is sticking to the former. This choice has resulted in a stunning truth: the Trump campaign is paying Facebook millions of dollars to promote its lies, and this doesn’t violate any of Facebook’s rules.