Facebook removes Trump campaign ads claiming it was election day

The Trump campaign has sent Facebook advertisements to tens of thousands of voters in swing states, erroneously telling them it was election day after the social media group’s ad blockers failed to detect messages that violated its rules on misinformation.

President Donald Trump’s campaign sent out messages on Tuesday including “Vote Today!” and “Election Day is Today!” a week before polling day of November 3, despite a Facebook ban on any advertisements that give out the wrong election date.

Facebook later removed the messages, but not before they had been seen by about 200,000 voters, mostly in swing states such as Florida, Arizona and Georgia.

Democratic strategists said they were concerned the messages were evidence that the Trump campaign was trying to dissuade their voters in swing states from voting on the correct day. They added, however, that the advertisements might also have been the byproduct of a botched attempt by Facebook to restrict political advertising in the week before the election.

The president’s re-election team published its latest posts on a chaotic day of online campaigning, during which Facebook attempted to implement a temporary ban on new political advertising but struggled to cope as campaigns rushed to publish new messages before the deadline.

Screenshots of the Facebook ads from the Trump campaign before they were taken down

It was not clear whether the Trump campaign was deliberately telling voters the wrong election date or merely trying to register an advertisement it intended to promote in a week’s time.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request to comment.

Eric Reif, managing director at eStreet Group, a Democratic campaign group, said: “It is good that these messages are being taken down but they very plainly never should have been approved in the first place.”

Facebook announced a month ago that it would ban all new political advertising for a week before the election, and said this month that it would ban all political advertising for about a week afterwards.

The social media company is hoping to avoid a repeat of the controversy surrounding the 2016 election, when it was accused of allowing the Trump campaign to use its platform to send misleading messages to small groups of users that were not seen by a wider audience.

Under its new rules, any advertisement that was registered in Facebook’s public library and had been seen by at least one person before midnight on October 27 would be allowed to remain on the website.

This led to a flurry of posts on Monday night as campaigns rushed to register and post new messages before the cut-off date. According to the Facebook ad library, they included several posts from the Trump campaign encouraging people to vote on that day.

Line chart showing how Trump and Biden are doing in the US national polls

The company’s data showed that one advertisement reading: “Vote Today! Let’s Go” had been seen up to 150,000 times, almost solely in Georgia, Florida and Arizona. Another reading “Election day is today” was seen up to 35,000 times, mainly by people in Georgia. 

Both advertisements were later taken down for violating the company’s policies.

“As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity,” Facebook said.

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Facebook did not intervene, however, in a separate Trump campaign video that featured the president’s smiling face superimposed on to a hummingbird under the caption: “It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States.”

Democrats warned the video could be used to try to claim victory following a contested election. Facebook said it would allow the video to remain, as Mr Trump would still be president until inauguration day in January, even if he lost the election. The video will not be allowed to run for at least a week after the election, however, when all political advertisements are banned.

Other candidates found their posts unexpectedly blocked on Tuesday morning as Facebook’s filters appeared to struggle with the weight of new messages.

Several campaign managers said their advertisements had been denied for not having been registered in time — even though in some cases they had already been running for several weeks and had clocked up more than 100,000 views. 

Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, said in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon: “We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns. We’re working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.” 

Tim Lim, a digital adviser to several Democratic campaigns, said: “This whole thing is so stupid and ridiculous. It was inevitable that there was going to be a problem when you set up a system-wide policy and process just a few weeks before the election.”

Swamp notes

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