Facebook will remove more than 1,000 Trump campaign ads directing people to fill out an online form titled “Official 2020 Congressional District Census,” after Democrats criticized them as misleading.
For weeks, the Republican National Committee has sent people across the country mailers designed to look like official census forms, including a lengthy questionnaire on blue-tinted paper similar to the type used by the real census. The Facebook ads placed by President Trump’s campaign direct people to an online version and asks for a donation.
“There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. census, and this is an example of those being enforced,” said Facebook representative Kevin McAlister.
The official start of the 2020 census is less than a week away, and for the first time people will be able to participate online.
At a news conference Thursday before Facebook announced its decision, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) accused the social media giant of putting profits above truth and an accurate census count.
“This is, on the part of Facebook, a robust, unacceptable interference in the census,” said Pelosi, who called the ads “an absolute lie” meant to confuse people.
Hours later, Facebook announced it would remove the ads.
Facebook said in December it would remove all intentionally inaccurate posts about the U.S. census, saying its new policy “bans misleading information about when and how to participate in the census and the consequences of participating.”
The policy also bans ads that “portray census participation as useless or meaningless or advise people not to participate in the census,” even if they come from political figures, which are normally exempt from ad fact-checking.
The Trump campaign dismissed questions about the mailers recently by saying they are clearly labeled as coming from the Republican Party.
Data collected in the every-10-year count of the country’s population is used to determine the size of congressional and legislative districts, and determines how and where trillions of dollars in federal funds are spent on programs like Medicare and reduced-price school lunches. An inaccurate count can lead to less political representation in Congress, or a state or city not getting enough funds to meet the needs of the populations they actually have.
Also Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee demanded in a letter that the Republican National Committee stop sending mailers or distributing information on social media or by text message that appears in any way to be official census documents.
Critics say the mailers — in envelopes labeled “Do Not Destroy. Official Document” — are designed to confuse people and possibly lower the response rate when the count begins in mid-March.
Asked about the mailers Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told lawmakers said the Census Bureau is working with Facebook and other social media companies to combat misleading information, but did not say he was specifically asking for the Trump campaign ads to be removed.
“I have asked the career staff at Census to look into this and see what appropriate action, if any, we should be taking to deal with it,” Ross said.
The Supreme Court last year blocked Ross from adding a citizenship question to the census form, which experts said would have likely led to an undercount in states such as California that have large immigrant populations.