On Thursday morning, Popular Information reported that the Trump campaign was running more than 1,000 ads on Facebook promoting a fake 2020 Census. The ads appeared to violate a policy that Facebook established in December, which prohibited "misleading information about when and how to participate in the census." But Facebook told Popular Information that the ads didn't violate its policies, and the company would not remove them.
A prominent civil rights leader who helped Facebook write its census policy, Vanita Gupta, told Popular Information that she strongly disagreed. She said Facebook had a "civic obligation" to enforce its policy and remove the ads.
The story quickly generated widespread attention on social media. By 10:30 AM, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was condemning Facebook and the Trump campaign ads in a press conference.
At 2 PM, seven hours after Popular Information's report, Facebook abruptly reversed course and announced it would take down all of the Trump census ads. "Upon further review, these ads are currently being taken down given the policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census," the company said.
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Facebook's response to Popular Information's reporting became national (and international) news. It was the first time ever the social media giant has removed a Trump campaign ad for misinformation. The story was picked scores of outlets: New York Times, Washington Post, AP, CNN, Politico, BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, and many more.
What happened yesterday is proof that facts can make a difference. Popular Information didn't need advertisers or the support of wealthy donors to hold the world's largest social media company and the reelection campaign of the incumbent president accountable for their actions. It only took the support of readers like you.
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Facebook, like it or not, will play a critical role in determining the outcome of the 2020 election. The census ads were bad but, as election day approaches, you can expect things on Facebook to get worse.
Ideally, the company would take responsibility for its own problems. But, as Charlie Wartzel of the New York Times noted, that's not happening.
Judd Legum @JuddLegum8. UPDATE: Just hours after this piece published, Facebook reversed course and said they would take all of the Trump census ads down. https://t.co/5HPplXB2WX
So it's up to us. With your support, Popular Information can make an even bigger impact between now and election day.
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