Facebook has been desperately trying to salvage its reputation since September, when The Wall Street Journal started publishing a series of damning articles revealing Facebook’s internal research into its platforms’ harmful impacts. One line of defense for Facebook -- which rebranded on Thursday as Meta -- has been repeatedly claiming that it took the necessary measures to secure the platform for the 2020 election, while attempting to downplay the mounting evidence and leaked documents that highlight its failure to protect users from dangerous content.
But almost a year after the polls closed, Facebook is still failing to contain the spread of false claims that the election was stolen. Using the Dewey Square Adwatch tool set, Media Matters has identified at least 46 paid political ads on Facebook and Instagram combined, promoting false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and calling for President Joe Biden’s victory to be decertified. These ads have received roughly 8.1 million combined impressions across both platforms.
Many right-wing media outlets and political figures, including former President Donald Trump himself, have pushed thoroughly debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen due to widespread voter fraud. On January 6, the “Stop the Steal” movement pushing election fraud claims culminated with the riot at the Capitol. Now, almost a year into Biden’s presidency, Trump and his supporters are calling for the results of the election to be “decertified” by rescinding Electoral College votes for Biden -- a fictitious process that experts say “clearly violate[s] the constitution and federal law.”
A majority of the ads we found were paid for by Wendy Rogers, a Republican member of the Arizona Senate who has previously expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. Rogers has a history of spreading false claims about the 2020 election as well as anti-immigration and anti-vaccine rhetoric.
In her new series of ads, Rogers calls for users to sign a petition “to decertify the Presidential Election.” Rogers' campaign paid at least $66,200 to Facebook for these ads and they received just over 8 million views.
Two additional ads urging users to sign a petition to decertify the election were run by Rep. Dave Williams (R-CO) and David Dwyer, a Republican candidate for Florida House District 47. On Instagram, Dwyer has posted photos of himself in a shirt with the logo of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia movement that appears on Facebook’s leaked list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” that the company uses to make policy determinations.
In their respective ads, Williams demands that officials “DECERTIFY fraud and AUDIT elections across the country,” while Dwyer states that “we must recall our electors and decertify the 2020 election.”
Claire Wirth, a Republican House candidate from Kentucky who is openly inspired by Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), ran at least 15 ads containing election misinformation along with demands to #decertify. While some of Wirth’s ads have been removed for violating Facebook’s ad policies, many have been allowed to continue running on the platform with debunked claims of election fraud and demands to decertify the results.
While Facebook has historically allowed false information to be published in political ads on its platform, it reversed its stance in June. Yet these new ads spreading election misinformation show that Facebook either cannot or will not enforce this updated policy. Additionally, research and reporting from Media Matters and numerous other organizations have shown that Facebook has failed to reduce the election misinformation festering on its platform. The company’s continued failure to moderate the accuracy of information being shared in paid political ads demonstrates that even after Facebook’s latest PR blitz, its commitment to actually addressing these issues is shallow -- especially compared to its commitment to its own profits.