WASHINGTON — Facebook said on Thursday that it had removed misleading ads run by President Trump’s re-election campaign about the 2020 census, in a stand against disinformation ahead of the decennial population count that begins next week.
Earlier this week, Trump Make America Great Again, a joint fund-raising arm of Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and the Republican National Committee, started running ads on the social media site that Facebook said could have caused confusion about the timing of the census.
“President Trump needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today. We need to hear from you before the most important election in American history,” the ad said. The campaign asked followers to “respond NOW” to help our campaign messaging strategy, with an appeal to text “TRUMP to 8022.”
The Census Bureau will not begin to survey the public for its population survey until next week. The ad linked the census to the Trump campaign, a misrepresentation of the official government survey, said civil rights groups.
Facebook said the message violated its policy against interference in the census, an important survey and population count used to draw electoral maps. Facebook bars the misrepresentation of dates, locations, times and methods for census participation.
“There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. census and this is an example of those being enforced,” Facebook said in a statement.
President Trump’s re-election campaign declined to comment about the ads.
Civil rights groups, which have been warning Facebook about the possibility of disinformation around the census, alerted Facebook to the misleading ads. Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, said she communicated over email on Thursday morning with Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.
Ms. Gupta has warned that the social network could be a target for misinformation on census information, a concern among civil rights leaders, who fear a miscount of the population could affect districting for voters and lead to voter suppression.
“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,” Ms. Gupta said in a statement. “We will continue to hold Facebook accountable to enforce it. Nothing should distract from making sure everyone gets counted.”
This is a developing story. It will be updated.