Facebook has bared its teeth ahead of president Trump’s re-election campaign by ejecting misleading census ads from its platform.
Laying out its red line Facebook said it would maintain a relaxed attitude to political advertising of questionable validity but would not abide any interference with the 2020 national census, part of a broader push back against disinformation.
The issue was brought to the fore by a campaign advert published by Trump Make America Great Again which, directly linking an impartial government survey with a partisan Trump campaign that had potential to sow confusion around the timing of the decadal population count.
The advert read: “President Trump needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today. We need to hear from you before the most important election in American history.” Audiences were then directed to text ‘TRUMP to 8022’ in response.
Thus far Facebook has adopted a lenient approach to political messages, permitting candidates to communicate misleading information in highly targeted campaigns but draws a line in the sand over misrepresentation of dates, locations, times and methods for census participation.
Explaining its action Facebook said in a statement: “There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official US census and this is an example of those being enforced.”
Civil rights activists welcomed the ban but criticised Facebook for not removing the material immediately, with questions still being asked about the role and impact of Facebook in the 2020 presidential election after the firm defied congressional pressure by continuing to permit outright lies in political adverts.
Seeking to adopt a more conciliatory approach Facebook has in recent months sought to be more transparent about political advertising conducted behind its walls with the introduction of an ad verification tool, although the system is only mandatory in a handful of countries.
Social rival Twitter has sought to differentiate itself by enforcing an outright ban on political adverts, a toughened stance that embarrassed Michael Bloomberg by calling out ‘platform manipulation’ and spam originating from his digital campaign.