Trump ad contagion spreads on Facebook, infects Google

I regret to inform you that Facebook and the Trump campaign are at it again.

Last week, Popular Information identified hundreds of Trump campaign Facebook ads targeting women in Texas that violated Facebook's ad policies. After I contacted Facebook, the company acknowledged those ads violated its rules and took them offline.

Facebook also admitted that it was not manually reviewing political ads. Instead, it was relying on a computer algorithm. Facebook is a $500 billion company with 35,000 employees.

On Monday, I identified dozens of new Trump campaign ads that violated Facebook policies. They were all variants of this ad about the Second Amendment:

There are, of course, no elected Democrats at the national level calling for "a repeal of the Second Amendment." Therefore, this ad violates Facebook's prohibition on "false or misleading content." (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.)

I contacted Facebook about this ad at 1:34 PM Eastern on Monday and asked them to respond by 10 PM Eastern. At 7:17 PM Eastern, a Facebook spokesman acknowledged receipt of my questions and promised he would get back to me. As of Tuesday morning, I have received no further response from the company, but all of Trump's Second Amendment ads are now marked "inactive."

It's unclear if Facebook took the ads offline or if the Trump campaign did so voluntarily. Of course, if the only consequence of running a false ad is that you have to take it down when you are caught, there is absolutely no incentive to follow the rules.

The review process for Facebook's political ads is broken. But the company, with extraordinary resources, appears in no hurry to fix it. False, manipulative, and misleading ads continue to be run from the Trump campaign, and nothing happens until this newsletter brings it to Facebook's attention.

At approximately noon on Tuesday, the language of all Trump’s Second Amendment ads had been changed. Here is the new version:

The key difference is changing “Democrats have admitted what they truly want: a repeal of the Second Amendment.” to “Democrats have been telling us that they only want ‘gun control.’ But the truth is finally out. Now some are now proudly calling for a REPEAL OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT.”

This is slightly more accurate since there are some Democrats somewhere who want the Second Amendment repealed, even if the party as a whole is not embracing that position. (A recent poll also found 8% of Republicans want to repeal the Second Amendment.)

Reminder: Facebook was supposed to hire 3,000 people to manually review ads

This newsletter is devoting more time to manually reviewing Trump's campaign ads than Facebook.

This is particularly galling since Facebook promised to hire 3,000 to 4,000 people to manually review political ads.

When I asked Facebook how it was reviewing the Trump ads, the company said it was relying mostly on "automated tools":

Asked what Facebook is doing to prevent political ads that violate its policies from running in the first place, a spokesperson said, "we’re always looking to improve our enforcement, which is never perfect." The company acknowledges that the ads were "subject to Facebook's ad review system, which relies primarily on automated tools to check ads against these policies."

Trump campaign moves deceptive ads from Facebook to Google

On April 11, Popular Information first exposed the Trump campaign's deceptive Facebook strategy. The primary example was an ad featuring Howard, an African-American man who supported Trump.

Howard, a tiny disclaimer revealed, was portrayed in the ad by an actor. This was a little strange, but no big deal if the actor who played Howard reflected the characteristics of the real Howard.

But further investigation revealed that Howard was presented to Facebook audiences as a young man, a middle-aged man, or a senior man, depending on who the Trump campaign was targeting. Each time, Howard delivered the same testimonial.

We don't know how old Howard is -- or if he exists -- but we know that he is not three different ages simultaneously. The ads, which appear to violate Facebook's prohibition on deceptive content, were taken down shortly after the Popular Information report.

But Howard is back. This time on Google. Here is young Howard delivering a full-throated endorsement of Trump.

And here is old Howard, delivering the same endorsement.

These videos were not publicly listed on YouTube but were run as ads by the Trump campaign in the last few days.

Google's ad policies prohibit misrepresentation.

"We don't want users to feel misled by ads, so we strive to ensure ads are clear and honest, and provide the information that users need to make informed decisions. We don’t allow ads or destinations that intend to deceive users by excluding relevant information or giving misleading information," the company says.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  


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