Facebook has banned ads from The Epoch Times, the conservative multi-language news outlet, as the social network attempts to apply a consistent political advertising policy. As reported by the NY Times, on Friday August 23rd, Facebook announced the ban following NBC News’ report last week that said The Epoch Times had concealed its ties to recent Facebook ads endorsing President Trump and ‘conspiracy content’.
By Hadassah Kalatizadeh
The Epoch Times was founded in 2000 by a group of Chinese-Americans affiliated with the religious group Falun Gong. The anti-communist newspaper toots itself for “Chasing the truth tirelessly in order to uphold a moral society grounded in virtue”, as per its website. The China-focused media outlet has grown exponentially thanks to its support for President Trump. It has also been called out for spreading conspiracy content such as anti-vaccination theories, and Spygate– the Obama administration’s efforts against Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The Epoch Times reportedly spent more money on pro-Trump Facebook advertisements than any other group. According to NBC News, the paper spent roughly $2 million in Facebook ads in all, many of them being pro-Trump ads.
Facebook had already banned The Epoch Times’s official accounts since July. As per NBC, however, the paper had begun running new ads on the social media giant without disclosing that they were associated with the news outlet. They ran the ads under different page names, including the “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism”. By hiding its name from the money they spend in the advertisements, the organization bypassed Facebook’s political advertising transparency rules.
“Over the past year we removed accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our ad policies,” Tom Channick, a Facebook representative, said in a statement. “We acted on additional accounts today, and they are no longer able to advertise with us.”
Stephen Gregory, publisher of The Epoch Times, responded in a statement, maintaining that Facebook had not clarified why its ads were taken down, so it began “publishing its advertising on a number of other, new Facebook pages.” He added that “these ads were overtly Epoch Times advertisements for our subscription.”
Facebook’s move exemplifies how hard it can be for it to spot and stop political ads from groups that it has already restricted. The social media network has been blamed for the spread of disinformation on its feed and for being used by Russia and others to mold public opinion. In its effort to control the situation, in 2018, Facebook introduced political advertising transparency rules which require political advertisers to disclose the name of the organizations that is paying for the ads.
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