Facebook accused of failing to detect ‘rampant election fraud’ campaign ad bought by Trump-backed Republican

Facebook says it is working to stamp out disinformation ahead of midterms

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 21 May 2022 02:08 BST
Joe Kent to call for impeachment of ‘unfit’ Joe Biden

Facebook has been accused of failing to detect and stop a campaign advert repeating the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election bought by a Republican candidate who backed by Donald Trump.

In the aftermath of Mr Trump’s defeat by Joe Biden, several social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, embarked on efforts to address false information spread that the election had been rigged.

Mr Trump, who was one of the biggest spreaders of falsehoods about the election, was banished from both platforms, and social media companies said they were working to address disinformation in the months ahead of November’s midterm election.

Yet, a report in the Washington Post said the company’s systems had failed to detect an advert bought and posted in May by Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed former special forces solider, competing in the race for Washington’s third congressional district.

“The conspiracy behind the rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election has been exposed,” says one advert.

Mr Kent is trying to oust Jaime Herrera-Beutler, one of ten Republican members of the House, who voted to impeach Mr Trump, after the 6 January storming of the US Capitol, by hundreds of his supporters.

The advert repeated the claim of “rampant voter fraud” in the 2020 election, something officials say there is no evidence to support. Indeed, Mr Trump’s own election integrity officials at the Department of Homeland Security, said the “November 3rd election was the most secure in American history”.

Like everyone that has earned Mr Trump’s endorsement, Mr Kent, 42, has often seized on the issue of 2020 election, and repeated his claim that there ought to be an investigation into events, even while he has not presented evidence of fraud or wrong-doing.

Joe Kent says comparing Jan 6 riot to Pearl Harbour is 'completely ridiculous'

In an interview earlier this year with The Independent, Mr Kent, whose wife, a Naval cryptographer, was killed by an Isis bomb in Syria, was asked whether he agreed with Mr Trump’s assertion that the election was not fair.

“I’m pretty adamant. I’m pretty confident in what I’ve seen that the election was rigged or stolen, however you want to put it, that Joe Biden did not 270 electoral votes,” he said.

“The way I’ll always caveat that, though, is that I believe that and I want to prove it. So I want there to be a venue. And I think when I get into Congress, we need to have a full congressional inquiry.”

Washington state makes use of opens primaries, which means the top top candidates that emerge from the first voting on August 2, move onto the general election regardless of their party affiliation.

Mr Kent has been a led an energetic, insurgent effort to dislodge Mr Herrera-Beutler, and the first poll of the year put him clearly ahead of her. Yet, the most recent polling, admittedly carried out in February, put him in second place behind Democrat Brent Hennrich.

Facebook has vowed to stamp out disinformation
Facebook has vowed to stamp out disinformation (Facebook)

The poll by Trafalgar Group gave Mr Hennrich 33 per cent, ahead of Mr Kent at 26 per cent, Ms Herrera Beutler at 22 per cent, and Heidi St John, a conservative author, at 12 per cent. (On Friday night, Mr Hennrich tweeted to say he was pulling out of the contest and urged supporters to throw their backing behind another Democrat.)

An examination of Facebook’s ad library by The Independent showed several adverts paid for by Mr Kent that appeared in May, that repeated the false claim that the 2020 race had been rigged.

“New VIDEO evidence shows thousands of “vote mules” dropping ballots in dropboxes across 5 swing states. An immediate investigation must be launched when Republicans regain the majority, but RINOs like my opponent Jaime Herrera Butler, will never investigate the fraud,” said one advert that appeared to run between May 12 - May 17.

Another said: “The conspiracy behind the rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election has been exposed. Now that we have digital and video evidence, a full investigation must be launched with prosecutorial powers. Permanent Washington will do whatever it takes to cover up the fraud. I will.”

On Friday, a spokesperson for Facebook, Corey Chamblis, said efforts were being made to counter disinformation.

“We have a dedicated team focused on the midterms,” he said in a statement, which did not address how the ad had been sold.

“We provide more transparency about political advertising on our platforms than any other tech company through our Ad Library, as well as disclaimers so that people can see exactly who is behind these ads.”

Neither Mr Kent or his campaign spokesman immediately responded to questions.

Ms Herrera Beutler did not respond to questions. Ms St John did not not reply to a question.

On Friday evening, Mr Hennrich posted a tweet saying he was pulling out of the race, and urged his supporters to back another Democrat, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who formally enterd the race earlier this month.

“I am sorry to have let anyone down. I can assure you it is a weight I care about. But democracy is on the line,” he wrote. “We must go forward. I will be wrapping up my campaign in the coming days.”

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