One of the misleading ads on Facebook. Photograph: Facebook
Advocates said this could interfere with the actual census, which begins for most Americans with mailers in mid-March. The census is a
once-in-a-decade event that seeks to count every person in the country, with drastic consequences for resource allocation and government representation nationwide.
Trumps campaign had sponsored and posted the misleading ads on 2 and 3 March, according to Facebooks ad library, which archives political ads. Most of the posts have fewer than 2,000 impressions, or times it was on someones screen, but several reached tens of thousands. The vast majority of those viewed by the Guardian cost less than $100.
After asking questions such as Do you think Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left are putting their personal anti-Trump agenda ahead of whats best for the American people? the site asks for a users contact information.
Terms of that website say that by providing your phone number, you are consenting to receive calls and SMS/MMS messages, including autodialed and automated calls and texts, to that number from each of the participating committees in the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, Donald J Trump for President and the Republican National Committee.
A spokesperson for the Census Bureau refused to comment directly on the ads, but pointed to
official guidelines that recommend Americans fight 2020 census rumors by reporting any advertisement on social media sharing fake 2020 census websites and inaccurate information.
stated policy on census misinformation bans misrepresentation of the dates, locations, times and methods for census participation.
A Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian: There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official US census and this is an example of those being enforced.
But the ads still made it through the initial vetting process and the company initially doubled down, saying that it was clear the ad wasnt referring to the official census,
according to journalist Judd Legum. Facebook only began removing the posts Thursday after media inquiries and pressure from civil rights advocates such Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Facebook announced last year it was
doubling down on election-time misinformation. Since the midterm elections in 2018, Facebooks policy has prohibited content that easily leads to voter suppression and automatically prevents posts like that from being visible. The network said federal agencies and state election chiefs can tell the company directly about such posts, and took down a handful on Super Tuesday.
But some experts say Facebook still
is not equipped to handle election year misinformation.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time the Trump administrations efforts have affected the census. Trump had originally attempted to include a question in the census of whether a respondent was a citizen leading to fears the census could be used to intimidate people related to undocumented immigrants. That was overturned in a June 2019 supreme court decision, but census workers are still likely to deal with the residual effects.
The Trump administration has already sowed significant confusion about the census when it decided to push the now-dead citizenship question, said Tom Wolf, counsel at the Brennan Centers Democracy Program. Were still cleaning up that mess.
The Trump campaign did not respond to request for comment.