Since February 2019, Judicial Watch, a conservative legal political organization, has run at least 263 ads on Facebook promoting misinformation about voting, including unsubstantiated claims of immigrants perpetuating voter fraud. These ads have earned over 16.3 million impressions on Facebook, which is now facing widespread pushback from advertisers and civil rights groups against its policies enabling the spread of misinformation.
In October 2019, Facebook announced that it would work to reduce the spread of misinformation to protect the 2020 U.S. elections by “fighting voter suppression and interference, including banning paid ads that suggest voting is useless or advise people not to vote.” On June 26, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reaffirmed the platform’s intentions to combat such misinformation through “new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting” and “crack down on voter suppression.”
But Facebook’s supposed commitment to reducing voting misinformation has not led to substantive action, even as civil rights groups and hundreds of advertisers continue to mount pressure on the company. Using the Dewey Square Adwatch toolset to analyze Facebook advertising data, Media Matters has now found at least 263 Facebook ads from Judicial Watch with false claims of voter fraud. The group has spent over $210,000 on these ads, which earned over 16.3 million impressions. The ads promoted inaccurate claims about voter fraud, including that “25% of noncitizens are registered to vote” and “illegal Aliens are voting.” They also call for action to “protect election integrity” and to “clean up the voter rolls” -- a euphemism for disenfranchising voters by purging them off the registration lists, often using inaccurate data to do so.
Currently, 50 of these ads are active on Facebook. Of the 263 total ads Judicial Watch has run containing misinformation about voting, 144 claimed that “illegal aliens are voting” :
Similarly, 119 of them claimed that “25% of noncitizens are registered to vote” :
These ads are not the only instance of Judicial Watch promoting misinformation about voting on Facebook. The conservative group has run other Facebook ads about lawsuits the group has filed against multiple states to obtain voter lists or to supposedly block “a leftist attempt to dirty up the voting rolls and undermine clean elections.” And as Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton has become a leading conservative voice against voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, the group has posted about and has run ads opposing vote-by-mail efforts on Facebook.
Facebook did take action in February against a Judicial Watch ad which claimed that the conservative group was “under attack for accurately highlighting dirty voting rolls in Iowa.” Before being taken down, the ad earned at least 25,000 impressions on Facebook.
Facebook has also allowed President Donald Trump and right-wing pages to post voting misinformation. A previous study from Media Matters found that posts about voting from right-leaning pages earned nearly 92 million interactions on over 17,600 posts between March 12 and June 12, surpassing engagement on voting-related posts from both left-leaning and ideologically nonaligned pages. Facebook also did not take action when Trump posted misinformation about mail-in ballots -- even when other platforms did. In fact, Zuckerberg criticized Twitter for placing a fact-check label on Trump’s tweets that contained the same misinformation he had posted on Facebook without pushback. In May, Facebook also did not take action against at least 529 ads from the Trump campaign that made false claims of voter fraud. Instead, the company profited off of these ads that spread misinformation about the 2020 election.