Facebook has banned the Epoch Times advertising, the Falun Gong-related publication and the conservative media outlet, as the social network struggles to implement a coherent political advertising policy.
Facebook issued the ban on Friday after NBC News this week released a report that The Epoch Times had obscured its connection to recent Facebook ads promoting President Trump and conspiracy content.
The Epoch Times, started in 2000 by a group of Chinese-Americans affiliated with the religious group Falun Gong, has been riding the wave of popularity of conservative and pro-Trump social media in recent years to build a large following on social media. On his website, he highlights conspiratorial content such as anti-vaccination theories, while his YouTube channels promote the pro-Trump fringe movement QAnon and other topics.
The official Epoch Times Facebook accounts were banned by the social network in July. But according to the NBC report, it then ran new Facebook ads without revealing that they were associated with the point of sale. The ads ran under page names such as “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism” and purchased by MarketFuel Subscription Services and Perpetual Market, which are decoy names for The Epoch Times, according to NBC News.
“Over the past year, we have deleted accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our advertising 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, editor of The Epoch Times, said in a statement that Facebook did not respond to requests for clarification as to why its ads were removed earlier, so it began “posting its ad on a certain number of other new Facebook pages “. He added that “these ads were openly Epoch Times ads for our subscription.”
But The Epoch Times apparently got around those rules before they got caught.
According to Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, the tactic mirrors that used by the Russian Internet Research Agency to whitewash disinformation through social movements by creating pages of impostors. “The militarization of advertising is crucial to increasing the audience for this disinformation,” she said.
Ms Donovan added that researchers and journalists have essentially turned into “glorified content moderators,” looking for ad content that breaks Facebook’s rules.
The Epoch Times spent about $ 2 million on Facebook ads, NBC News, many of them pro-Trump, said. Facebook declined to comment on how much the post was spent on its platform.