Facebook will remove President Donald Trump's reelection ads that claim to be part of the census from the social media platform, a representative said Thursday amid criticism the company has failed to do enough to prevent misinformation about the upcoming count.
The move follows months of pressure on the administration from congressional Democrats outraged by campaign mailers sent by the Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee that this week seeped over to Facebook pages. Democrats called the mailers and online ads deceptive because they mimic official census letters going out across the country next week and could confuse people and suppress census responses.
Facebook was in the process of removing the advertisements, a spokesperson told CQ Roll Call in a statement.
“There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census and this is an example of those being enforced," the statement said.
Asked about the controversy, the RNC acknowledged sending out the mailers, which are clearly marked as coming from the committee, to more than a dozen states since last year. The committee didn't provide further comment.
The Trump campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
During a press conference earlier Thursday with leaders of the congressional minority caucuses, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “particularly annoyed” that Facebook had failed to address the online ad by Trump's reelection campaign.
“It is an absolute lie,” she said of the ad. “A lie that is consistent with the misrepresentation policy of Facebook. But now they're messing with who we are as Americans. I know the profit motive is their business model, but it should not come at the cost of counting who is in our country.”
At the same time in the Senate, Democrats got their chance to talk about the RNC ads with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked Ross to help put a halt to the RNC fundraising letters, which have been styled as a "congressional district census." Shaheen called the letters, along with similar online advertisements by Trump’s campaign, “misinformation that appears to be deliberate to try and confuse people about the census."
Ross confirmed the documents do not come from the Census Bureau.
Testifying before a Senate Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee hearing on his department’s fiscal 2021 budget request, Ross said he has asked "the career staff at Census to look into this and see what appropriate action if any we should be taking to deal with it." He promised to report back to the committee his findings.
On the House side, meanwhile, members of the Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter Thursday urging the RNC to stop sending the census lookalike mailers. Their letter noted the RNC has changed its tactics to skirt a 2010 law Congress passed to deter deceptive census mailings.
“Simply put the RNC should not invoke the official U.S. Census as a means to confuse and deceive recipients of the mailer into opening it, thinking they are complying with their civic duty,” the lawmakers said in their request.
Nevada Democrat Steven Horsford, who leads the census task force for the Congressional Black Caucus, said the 2010 law lacks an enforcement mechanism and may require Congress to look at new legislation to prevent disruption in the future.
“We're going to need to look from a congressional standpoint what enforcement can be done and penalties assessed,” he told CQ Roll Call.
In the meantime, lawmakers need to focus on getting the count right now since the first round of census forms go out next week.
"So we have to redouble our efforts,” he said.
The RNC started sending the mailers last year. The survey includes a disclaimer it had been sent by the RNC and information about restrictions on donations from corporations and foreign nationals.
Last year, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission said the agency would not comment on the legality of specific political communications and the rules specify that communications must identify the sender.