Facebook Is Still Showing Ads About Election Fraud to Millions of Users

Facebook announced a new rule on Wednesday that banned any ads that sought to delegitimize the outcome of the presidential election.
October 2, 2020, 2:11pm
15 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman of Facebook, speaks at the 56th Munich Security Conference. Photo by: Sven Hoppe/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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Facebook announced a new rule on Wednesday that banned any ads that sought to delegitimize the outcome of the presidential election.

But an investigation has found at least 80 ads that do just that, run almost exclusively by right-wing groups or individuals, were active on the site as of Thursday evening. The ads have already garnered more than 2 million impressions, with the potential to reach many more American voters.

The investigation was conducted by Media Matters for America, a nonprofit that tracks conservative media output. The ads were still live on Friday morning when VICE News checked Facebook’s ad library.

The ads are being run by conservative groups like FreedomWorks, Republican PACs like 2020 American Defense Fund, and prominent conservative figures including Ben Shapiro and Dinesh D’Souza.

Ben Shapiro ad.png

At least two of the offending ads have each received over 1 million impressions, including this one from Wyoming Liberty Group.

Wyoming Liberty Group ad.png

The ads are a mix of fearmongering about widespread voter fraud — of which there is little evidence — and allegations that voting by mail is fraudulent — another claim with scant evidence.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this week, Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, announced that the company would no longer allow “ads with content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of an election.”

As examples of what types of ad the new rule would prohibit, Leathern said “calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election.”

The ads currently live on Facebook’s site do both of these things.

2020 American Defense Fund ad.png

“This report underlines that we can't trust Facebook on ads,” Damian Collins, a UK lawmaker who has held multiple hearings on disinformation, told VICE News.

“Even when they change their policy to make it more responsible, they are caught out failing to deliver on it. This is why Facebook needs an oversight board with the power to investigate and challenge the company when it fails to properly implement its own policies.”

Collins is part of a group of Facebook critics including journalists, academics, former employees and activists who call themselves the Real Facebook Oversight Board, and who met for the first time this week to demand the company make specific changes ahead of the election.

One of those changes was a ban on ads that undermined the integrity of the election, so when Leathern announced his decision, the group claimed a victory.

Now the group is demanding the company actually enforce the policies it has in place.

“This highlights one of the other main demands that the Real Facebook Oversight Board is making,” Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist who brought the group together, told VICE News.

But the group wants Facebook to go further than blocking problematic ads, it wants Facebook to also censor any user posts that seek to undermine the credibility of the election or claim victory for one candidate prematurely.

“It's not enough for Facebook to have policies. It must also enforce them. We see this time and time again. It has also made no announcement at all about the RFOB's second demand around organic content. Ads are only one small part of the problem.”