Facebook Allows Republican Fundraising Ads Falsely Linking COVID Surge To Migrants

Facebook is allowing Republican politicians to post ads that falsely associate migrants with the coronavirus surge in southern states.

“The ads, whose central claim has been rejected by doctors and fact-checkers, illustrate the platform’s inconsistent approach to defining coronavirus misinformation, especially when elected officials are involved,” reports The Washington Post.

Combining fear and anger toward migrants with a desire to blame factors other than insufficient levels of vaccinations for the Delta variant-driven COVID surge in Florida and other states has gained popularity among Republicans since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis used a recent fundraising letter to assert that the Biden administration was allowing migrants to spread the virus.

A fundraising Facebook ad from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) — chairman of the Senate Republican Conference — that began running August 6 accuses the CDC and President Biden of “telling Americans to MASK UP” while letting thousands of “COVID-19 positive illegal immigrants into our country!” That ad has been seen about 15,000 times thus far, according to Facebook’s ad archive, reports the Post

Similar fundraising ads have been posted on Facebook by Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Representative Ted Budd (R-N.C.), and Representative August Pfluger (R-Tex.). 

Last September, Facebook banned ads from Trump’s campaign that claimed that allowing in more refugees would heighten Americans’ risk for COVID, saying Facebook does not allow “claims that people’s physical safety, health, or survival is threatened by people on the basis of their national origin or immigration status.” 

But a Facebook spokesperson tells the Post that the new ads from Republicans do not violate the company’s policies because the ads are “attacking unvaccinated people or potentially people with COVID, which isn’t an attack on a protected group.”

Facebook has come under fire from lawmakers and others for allowing itself to be used as a conduit for false political ads during the 2020 election, including the lie that the 2020 election was rigged, thus eventually contributing to the January 6 insurrection. The platform claimed its initial refusal to reject any political ads stemmed from concern over allowing the free exchange of ideas during an election.

Facebook pulled in about $164 million in ads from political campaigns and politicians in 2020's third quarter alone, before it finally paused ads in the days following the election, in recognition that the rigged election lie could foment violence.

Currently, Facebook is facing criticism from lawmakers over its recent decision to effectively shut down New York University's  Ad Observatory project, which studied political ads on the platform.

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