Mar 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Facebook takes down Trump campaign's "census" ads

Photo: Johannes Simon/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After initially indicating it would not take action against campaign ads from President Trump that encouraged people to "take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today," Facebook said Thursday it would take the messages down.

Why it matters: Facebook has generally subjected political advertising to few rules, but had said it would take a tough stand against any posts designed to mislead people about the census.

  • In this case, the company only took action after the problem was reported and civil rights groups spoke out.

Details: The ads also included a logo touting a "2020 Census," in an apparent effort to encourage supporters to provide the campaign with personal information.

  • Judd Legum at Popular Information reported early Thursday about the ads and said that Facebook was not taking action.
  • That drew an outcry from the Leadership Conference Education Fund and other civil rights groups, and Facebook eventually reversed its decision, citing a further review of the ads.

What they're saying:

  • Facebook, in a statement to Axios: "There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census and this is an example of those being enforced."
  • Vanita Gupta, CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund: "While we're gratified that Facebook shut down Trump's attempt to sow confusion about how and when to participate in the 2020 Census, it's disturbing that the ads weren't immediately removed."
  • Sen. Mark Warner: "The Trump campaign's bogus 'official census' Facebook ads are deceptive and undermine public confidence in the census process. I'm glad Facebook heeded calls by @vanitaguptaCR and @juddlegum to take them down."
  • The New York Times' Charlie Warzel offered a "reminder that Facebook essentially relies on independent journalists like Judd to act as unpaid content moderators."

Go deeper

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The government is encouraging Americans to respond to this year's census online, prompting concerns that millions who lack internet access may not be properly counted.

Why it matters: The 2020 census determines how federal funding is allocated across the country, so any undercount matters, and one caused by the digital divide would skew heavily against less well-off citizens.

Census self-reporting on track despite coronavirus disruptions

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Despite the disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the Census Bureau says its self-reporting numbers for 2020 are on track.

Why it matters: The census determines how federal funding is allocated across state and local governments, including funding for emergency response and public health infrastructure.

Facebook will indefinitely pay contractors it has sent home

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What they're saying: "I don't think we see an end to that," CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Wednesday on giving full pay to its contracted content moderators whose work can't be done remotely.