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Facebook Has Been a Hive of Racist Ads. It Should Be Vigilant About Pulling Them Down

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Late last week, Facebook announced that it would do more to ban hate speech in its ads, after a boycott led by Color of Change was the catalyst that led 100 other brands to pull their advertising from the platform. 

Facebook had come under fire for refusing to censor or moderate content like Donald Trump’s May post responding to Black Lives Matter protestors, saying that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The new Facebook ads policy, as announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will (emphasis ours):

…prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others. We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.

It’s an interesting policy because — as multiple reports from America’s Voice have shown — Facebook is rife with this exact kind of ad. Republican candidates running for local, state, and federal offices have been attacking immigrants, people of specific races, and migrants who come to our borders, in ads that have been running for months. 

For example, as millions of Americans have suffered from COVID-19 and its downstream effects, dozens of campaigns have run Facebook ads that directly and solely blame China for the outbreak of the pandemic. These ads falsely signal that Asian-Americans are connected to the global COVID-19 pandemic and should be treated with distrust. 

Party primaries are mostly over with for the year, so there are few currently active Facebook ads that are as bad as some of the most racist ones we saw earlier this year. But a number of Republican candidates who did run racist ads won their primaries, which means we’re likely to see future hate from them. They include:

And here’s a couple examples of these racist ads:


Facebook should absolutely be vigilant about their new policy, watching out for past offenders and taking down new racist ads immediately. They should also ban altogether candidates who repeatedly run afoul of anti-racist guidelines.

Facebook has already said that they will label, while leaving some ads up, “that would otherwise violate our policies if the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm.” However, they’ve also indicated that this would be a rare category, occurring a “handful of times a year”.

It’s imperative that Facebook remove, and not just label, new racist ads as they go up. In 2018, Trump and Republican candidates across the nation ran thousands of ads attacking the migrant caravans that were approaching the border at the time. Trump referred to immigrants as “killers” over 500 times and called them an “invasion”. In August 2019, an extremist gunman killed 23 people in a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, after leaving behind a manifesto echoing Trump’s invasion rhetoric.  

More recently, as Republicans run slate after slate of anti-China ads, the FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that “hate crime incidents against Asian-Americans likely will surge across the United States,” as people falsely associate them with the spread of COVID-19. Asian-Americans are already suffering on average around one hundred attacks every single day, and this number may yet increase as a result of these multi-million dollar ad buys which further promote hateful rhetoric. 

The kind of content that Facebook allows on its platform matters. Facebook should be vigilant about taking down racist ads from candidates this election year, and ban repeat offenders. 

Read our recent reports on racist campaign ads below:

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