Media Matters has identified more than 75 paid ads on Facebook that direct users to alternative social media platforms that allow extremist content.
Facebook has often received criticism for its handling of misinformation -- until only recently, the company did not moderate content posted by political figures. Under public pressure, the platform is now claiming to crack down on the misinformation that has previously been allowed to remain, but the company’s efforts are falling short. By profiting from these ads that direct users to hubs of misinformation off of its platform, Facebook is only further demonstrating its apathy toward actually addressing the problem.
Thirty-six of the ads we found have been paid for by known disinformers, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, right-wing media figure Dan Bongino, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and right-wing network PragerU. According to data from the Dewey Square Adwatch tool set, Facebook earned at least $71,300 on these ads encouraging users to create accounts on fringe platforms including Parler, Gab, and Rumble. These ads earned at least 9 million impressions.
The remainder are from the conservative political action committee Drain the DC Swamp, promoting its Telegram channel. While Telegram has wide use outside of far-right communities, this PAC has used its channel to share statements from former President Donald Trump, who has been suspended from Facebook for “his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6.” (Many of these statements also contain election misinformation.) Drain the DC Swamp PAC has paid over $144,300 for 40 ads that have earned over 10.3 million impressions since being created in March and April.
Many conservatives have denounced Facebook in recent years, citing the platform’s efforts to enforce community guidelines as censorship. (This claim, while frequently repeated by the right, has been thoroughly debunked.) Now, some of these ads from right-leaning pages are actively encouraging their followers to migrate to these alternative platforms by mentioning that they may be kicked off Facebook and other major social media sites.
The prominent conservative figures and outlets purchasing these Facebook ads include PragerU, a right-wing propaganda network that has spread disinformation against trans youth and critical race theory; Rogers, a GOP state senator who has been vocal in spreading misinformation about the Arizona election “audit,” COVID-19 vaccines, and immigration; Nunes, a California politician who has advocated against lockdowns and pushed pro-Trump conspiracy theories; Bongino, a Fox News host with a long history of spreading misinformation and hate speech; and Greene, who has famously amplified QAnon, “Pizzagate,” and numerous other conspiracy theories and was temporarily suspended from Twitter last month for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. Together, their ads direct Facebook users to Gab, Rumble, and Parler -- fringe sites that have a record of platforming hateful and inflammatory content from users who in some cases have been banned from larger platforms. (The CEO of Gab even cheered on the January 6 insurrection — the same action that saw Trump removed from Facebook.)
The organization spending the most money on these ads to promote alternative platforms is Drain the DC Swamp PAC, a group that recently spent $300,000 on Facebook ads attacking GOP members of Congress as “turncoats” and “RINO communist traitors” for supporting the January 6 commission. These tactics have carried over to their new ads, which promote the PAC’s Telegram account while labeling Democrats as “Communists” and “traitors.”
While Facebook has stated that “false news is harmful to our community” and that the company has “found that a lot of fake news is financially motivated,” it continues to allow the monetization of content that could actively encourage greater spread of disinformation.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation has flourished on Facebook at the same time the company has enjoyed increased profits; The New York Times reports that Facebook’s “revenue rose 56 percent to $29 billion in the three months ending in June compared with the same period last year, while profits rose 101 percent to $10.4 billion, as the social network continues to benefit from a surge of users spending more time online during the pandemic.”
By profiting from these ads promoting the “free speech” benefits of fringe platforms, Facebook is now not only dodging responsibility for this content, but actively facilitating its continued spread.