Discover more from Popular Information
Facebook admits Trump campaign is violating its rules, takes down numerous ads targeting women
This is a special report from the Popular Information newsletter. Sign up to get independent accountability journalism directly to your inbox.
Donald Trump has a problem with women. Recent polling shows that 60% of women or more disapprove of Trump's presidency. An ABC poll found that Trump lags far behind the four leading Democratic presidential candidates among women, trailing Biden (-20), Harris (-15), Sanders (-13), and Warren (-11)
So Trump is attempting to rally support from women with Facebook ads like this:
There is just one problem: this ad, and others like it, violate Facebook's rules.
Facebook's advertising guidelines list thirty varieties of prohibited content. Number twelve on the list prohibits ads that target "personal attributes." Facebook says ads must not include "direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s... gender identity."
Trump's ad is clearly prohibited, but Facebook allowed it to run until an inquiry by Popular Information. "We've notified the campaign that the ads violate policy. They can’t continue to run unless fixed," a Facebook spokesperson told Popular Information.
Facebook promised more humans, but still relies on ineffective automated review
Last year, Facebook promised to hire 3,000 to 4,000 people to manually review political ads for violations. But the company admitted to Popular Information earlier this year that it still "relies primarily on automated tools to check ads against these policies." That system is not working. In April, Facebook allowed the Trump campaign to run a series of ads containing the phrase "Attention Ladies." The ads were not removed until Popular Information asked Facebook about the violation.
In other cases, Facebook is unwilling to enforce its rules even when it is made aware of violations. For example, the Trump campaign is currently running an ad that falsely claims that Democrats are advocating the repeal of the 2nd Amendment.
These ads, running days after two gun massacres killed dozens of people, are not just in bad taste. They are also violation of Facebook's rules, which prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content." There are no elected Democrats at the national level calling for "a repeal of the Second Amendment." (Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens did call for repealing the Second Amendment, but he is a Republican appointed by former Republican President Gerald Ford.)
But when I brought a similar ad to Facebook's attention in May, a Facebook spokesperson promised to get back to me but never did. So the false ad continues to run.
Facebook appears willing to enforce its prohibition on ads that target “personal attributes,” which is a rule that is in place to protect Facebook. The company doesn't want users to be confronted with how much of their personal information it makes available to advertisers for targeting. But Facebook appears unwilling to vigorously enforce its rules prohibiting false and misleading content, which is a rule that protects the public.
A pattern of abuse
Facebook has repeatedly allowed Trump to run ads that make demonstrably false claims.
Facebook allowed the Trump campaign to run an ad that falsely claimed Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang supported eliminating private insurance.
Facebook allowed the Trump campaign to run multiple ads that deceptively portrayed a single endorsement from "Howard" as coming from a young man, a middle-aged man, or an old man, depending on who the ad was targeting.
Facebook allowed the Trump campaign to run a false ad targeting seniors that claimed he was still considering closing the southern border "next week" when he had already publicly announced he would not close the border for at least a year.
Facebook allowed the Trump campaign to run an ad scamming its supporters by claiming there was a midnight deadline to enter a contest to win the "1,000,000th red MAGA hat signed by President Trump." The ad was run every day for weeks.
The situation is likely to get worse. The Trump campaign is learning that it can get away with nearly anything on Facebook. As election day approaches, its tactics are likely to become more brazen.
Somehow, this newsletter has more resources available to review Trump's ads manually than Facebook, which raked in $16 billion in revenue over the last three months.
An informed public is the cornerstone of a functioning Democracy. Facebook's neglect is putting us at risk of a 2016 repeat.
You can make sure Popular Information has the resources to do the work that Facebook won't by becoming a paid subscriber. It's just $50 per year.
Paid subscribers get four newsletters per week. If you have any questions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.