Facebook approves Trump ads that violate its pre-election rules

In September, Facebook announced that it would stop accepting new political ads starting October 27. From October 27 through Election Day on November 3, political groups are permitted to run, subject to limitations, Facebook ads approved and running before October 27.

In October, Facebook announced that after the polls close, it would ban all political ads indefinitely. The purpose of that policy is to prevent a campaign from declaring victory prematurely.

Both policies were part of a high-profile effort to convince the public that the company was taking election integrity seriously.

But on the first day of the moratorium, Facebook approved numerous Trump ads that appeared to violate its pre-election policies. At the same time, Facebook rejected scores of ads, many from groups aligned with Democrats, that do not violate its rules.

Popular Information contacted Facebook regarding Trump’s ads early Tuesday afternoon. Several hours later, Facebook told Popular Information that some of the ads did violate its policies and hundreds of Trump’s ads were taken down.

Election Day is not today

The Trump campaign produced a number of ads that said "Election Day is Today."

These ads violate Facebook's policies. Why? In order to comply with the moratorium, the ads need to begin delivering impressions prior to October 27. The Trump campaign spent a small amount of money delivering these ads to Facebook users in Ohio and elsewhere. But, while early voting has started in many states, it is not Election Day anywhere. These ads should not have been approved because they violate Facebook's policy against misrepresenting the date of the election.

Facebook's public guidance on complying with the moratorium specifically says to avoid this kind of ad.

Use ad creative that will last through Election Day.

To prevent any potential confusion or issues during the restriction period, we encourage you to run messages that will stay relevant through Election Day. For example, "Vote on November 3" instead of "Vote Today."

As a reminder, misrepresentations about when and how to vote violate our policy for voter suppression and interference.

Megan Clasen, a media advisor for the Biden campaign, said Facebook explicitly told the Biden campaign not to run ads like this.

The Trump campaign also launched a number of ads that say, more generically, "Vote Today."

These ads also violate Facebook's policies. An email sent by Facebook to political advertisers on October 13, obtained by Popular Information, says that such ads will be rejected unless they "include clear context" such as "the specific dates for early voting in the relevant location where the ad is being run."

Creative considerations before and during the Restriction period: Ads that say “Vote Early” or “Vote Today” should include clear context (for example, the specific dates for early voting in the relevant location where the ad is being run). If they are missing relevant context, these ads will be rejected because they could mislead people about valid timing or methods of voting, which violates our policies… It is strictly against policy to misrepresent when to vote, and we continue to enforce this policy both proactively and reactively.

The Trump campaign ads include no context about the dates of early voting but were approved anyway.

Several hours after Popular Information contacted Facebook regarding these two sets of ads, it acknowledged they violated its policies and took them down. “As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity," a Facebook spokesman said.

Here comes the sun

Facebook also approved an ad that appears to allow the Trump campaign to declare victory on November 3. In the video, which was first reported by CNBC, a sun with the face of Trump rises in the background. A voice-over says, "It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States." A smiling Trump, now a hummingbird, flitters around as flowers scream.

Since this ad was approved by Facebook and ran briefly in Nevada and elsewhere, it is eligible to be reactivated on the night of November 3. Although Trump is still president today, the ad was clearly created to be used on election night. It violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Facebook's prohibition on premature declarations of victory.

The company reiterated this policy in an October 7 email to political advertisers, obtained by Popular Information. "We will prohibit ads that claim victory before the results have been declared or seek to undermine the ultimate outcome of the election," the company said.

Facebook told Popular Information on Tuesday that the ad would not be removed.

Facebook misapplies moratorium rules to Democratic Super PAC

While the Trump campaign has seen its ads approved, Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC, has had a different experience. The group reported that 586 of its ads, designed to encourage voter turnout, were rejected. The problem, allegedly, was that the ads were not active prior to October 27. But Josh Scherwin, Priorities USA's Communications Director, said that was not true and that all the ads had impressions delivered prior to the deadline. Other liberal groups are facing similar issues.

Adweek reported the problem was widespread.

House Majority PAC, a liberal advocacy organization, said about one-third of their ads were affected by the outage.

Two other Democratic-affiliated firms confirmed they experienced the same issues with ads pausing unexpectedly. “The context is brutal here,” one buyer said under condition of anonymity. “One week to the election and today will be a huge fundraising day because of the [Amy Coney Barrett] confirmation and it’s devastating to have Facebook hamstring this stuff.”

Adweek identified one Republican firm, Majority Strategies, that said it was facing similar problems.

Facebook told Priorities USA that it was a glitch and would be fixed shortly. Hours later, on Tuesday afternoon, nothing had changed.