UPDATE: March 5, 2020, 3:19 p.m. EST Facebook has done an about-face on the ads, telling Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in an email (as reported by journalist Judd Legum) that they will take the ads down. In the email, the company said, “Upon further review, these ads are currently being taken down given the policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census.”
Our original story is posted below.
Facebook failed us again. It’s allowing Donald Trump to use misleading ads related to the U.S. census despite Facebook’s pledge to stop these kinds of shenanigans.
As flagged by journalist Judd Legum in his Popular Information newsletter, Donald Trump’s campaign, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, is running ads on Trump and Mike Pence’s Facebook pages with links to the “Official 2020 Congressional District Census.”
After a close look at the ads, it certainly seems like Team Trump is trying to confuse users into thinking they’re participating in the actual census.
When clicked, the ads take you to surveys on Trump’s campaign website.
While there are certainly signs that this is affiliated with Trump (the Trump-Pence logo in the bottom right corner and, uh, the GIANT PHOTO OF TRUMP), there’s some chicanery going on here, too.
Like the “For Official Use Only” box, the use of the word “Certified,” and the “Official 2020 Congressional District Census” phrase, which is also in the URL.
If you need a refresher, Facebook said back in December 2019 that “we are announcing a new census interference policy that bans misleading information about when and how to participate in the census and the consequences of participating.”
Facebook told Legum that the ads don’t violate those census rules because, as he puts it, “it is clear the Trump campaign ads are not about the official Census because the ads also reference his campaign.”
The Trump ads don’t violate several aspects of these rules, like dissuading users from taking the census or “Misrepresentation of the dates, locations, times and methods for census participation” and “who can participate in the census.”
But it does still offer misleading information about the census.
While the ads give the Trump team some wiggle room to claim innocence, they certainly seem meant to confuse users or otherwise convince them they’re taking the official census.
And, as Legum notes, it’s not the first time Republicans have tried something like this. Even former GOP waterboy Jason Chaffetz was upset.
The RNC’s ‘census’ forms are not actual census forms. I was upset about this previously and I am still concerned. This is deceptive and it’s not right. @MSNBC https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rnc-s-census-forms-are-not-actual-census-forms-n1143421 …The RNC’s ‘census’ forms are not actual census form political parties have been known to send out some sketchy fundraising pitches, but the RNC’s fake-census materials are especially tough to defend.msnbc.com
That other versions of the ad refer to the “census” as a “survey” simply underscores Team Trump’s intent to sow confusion on Facebook. It’s as if the lessons of the last four years have taught us nothing.
We’ve reached out to Facebook for additional comment on the ads.