Skip to Content

Twitter and Facebook won’t remove false Trump campaign ads about Biden

October 11, 2019
Joe Biden at a campaign rally before the pandemic.
Joe Biden at a campaign rally before the pandemic.
Joe Biden at a campaign rally before the pandemic.Associated Press

Facebook and Twitter have both refused to remove ads placed by Donald Trump’s reelection campaign because they don’t break their policies—even if the content is false.

The news: This week, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign sent letters pleading with Facebook and Twitter to block advertisements that claim he coerced Ukraine into firing a prosecutor targeting his son Hunter. The claim has been debunked by media outlets and even Republican politicians as a baseless conspiracy theory, but Facebook and Twitter have said their policies allow the ads to run.

What are their policies? Last month, Facebook communications chief Nick Clegg said Facebook will not fact-check politicians’ ads, a stance the company has reiterated. In a letter to Biden’s campaign, Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, said that “if a claim is made directly by a politician on their Page, in an ad or on their website, it is considered direct speech and ineligible for our third-party fact checking program.”

The letter goes on to say: “These polices apply to organic and paid content from politicians—including the ad by President Trump you reference in your letter.”

In other words, even if the content is false, the fact that it is being said by a politician, or a campaign on the politician’s behalf, means it is considered newsworthy, making it exempt from certain standards. (Facebook says that things like viral hoaxes that are shared by a politician would be demoted, displayed alongside fact-checking information, and banned from ads.) This disparity in the policy is confusing, to say the least.

Meanwhile, Twitter told The Verge that the ad is “not in violation of our policies,” without clarifying further. 

Perverse incentives? Facebook earns a lot of money from politicians. Trump’s campaign alone has spent between $1.3 million and $3.8 million promoting 5,883 different ads since September 18, according to The Guardian, which took the data from Facebook’s own advertising archive.  

An almighty mess: With just over a year until the 2020 election, concerns over the spread of deliberate misinformation are not going to go away. In fact, the problem will only get worse, particularly when such obvious loopholes in Facebook’s and Twitter’s policies allow any disinformation to be shared. Are they up to the task of dealing with it? Senator Elizabeth Warren, another candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination, clearly thinks not.

She said Facebook is “deliberately allowing a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people.” As false claims spread on both platforms, they can expect their policies to face a growing barrage of criticism. 

Sign up here for our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.