'They're messing with who we are as Americans': Pelosi slams Facebook for misleading Trump Census ads

Social media company removed more than 1,000 campaign ads disguised as 'official' surveys

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 05 March 2020 22:55 GMT
Nancy Pelosi slams Facebook for Trump's fake Census ads

As Americans prepare for a once-a-decade headcount that will be used to determine the makeup of Congress and how federal spending reaches communities across the US, Democrats slammed Facebook and Donald Trump for an ad that directed the social media company's users to the president's campaign fundraising website, disguised as an "official" Census form.

The ads appeared in thousands of posts that said the president "needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today" and directs users to a website where a large banner says "Official 2020 Congressional District Census."

The link takes users to a survey asking visitors about their political party affiliation, whether they support the president, and where they get their news, followed by a request for a donation to the president's campaign - all in violation of Facebook's policies on misrepresentation in political ads.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the form "an absolute lie" and that the company is "messing with who we are as Americans."

Facebook ultimately decided to remove the ads "given the policies in place to prevent confusion around the official US Census," the company said in a statement.

"I know the profit motive is their business model, but it should not come at the cost of counting who is in our country, so that we can provide the services and the rest," Speaker Pelosi said. "The beautiful diversity of America is what this administration fears, they want [the Census] undercounted. They're misrepresenting facebook, and Facebook is saying that misrepresentation is consistent with their policy."

She told reporters at her weekly address on Thursday that Congress also asked Facebook to remove the website from the platform, while four Democratic House members sent a letter to the Republican National Committee to stop online ads and physical mail sent across the US that resemble Census documents.

"It undermines who we are," Speaker Pelosi said. "It might be good for their profits, but it's not what counts for us."

Performed once a decade, the US Census is used to determine the number of seats each state received in Congress and how billions of dollars in federal funds are apportioned to cities across the US.

Democrats have feared a Census "undercount," which would exclude "hard to count" populations like undocumented people and communities of colour, which largely vote Democrat. Republicans are accused of turning the Census data into a partisan concern, in an effort to maintain conservative dominance in heavily gerrymandered areas and with largely Republican constituencies reflected in the data.

More than a dozen Republican governors aren't devoting any resources to Census efforts in their states, and Republican fundraising efforts in several states included mailed-out forms that resemble Census surveys.

Last year, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company was seriously tackling misinformation related to the Census, which would be treated "like an election - with people, policies and technology in place to protect against census interference."

The Trump campaign ad was shared by Facebook pages for the president and Vice President Mike Pence, among others.

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