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.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.

Deep Dive

Humans and technology

AI gains momentum in core manufacturing services functions

More use cases means customers and employees experience AI’s ability to automate tasks, prioritize work, and empower the user.

Enabling enterprise growth with data intelligence

It's becoming more critical for organizations to organize data and put data infrastructure at the forefront of their data strategy, says Bharti Patel, SVP of product engineering at Hitachi Vantara.

AI-powered 6G networks will reshape digital interactions

The convergence of AI and communication technologies will create 6G networks that make hyperconnectivity and immersive experiences an everyday reality for consumers.

Customer experience horizons

The big ideas that define the future of customer and employee experience.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.