Facebook removes President Trump’s ‘census’ campaign ads

Facebook Inc said on Thursday it was removing ads from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that asked users to fill out an “Official 2020 Congressional District Census” because they violated its policies.

The ads, hundreds of which were run through the pages of the president and Vice President Mike Pence, link to a survey on an official campaign website and then to a page asking for donations.

“This survey is ESSENTIAL to our team’s 2020 campaign strategy. We need Patriotic Americans like YOU to respond to this census, so we can develop a winning strategy for YOUR STATE. Your participating in this national effort will provide us with the detailed data we need for YOUR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT,” one read.

Some of the ads, which feature an image of a scroll with the words ‘2020 census,’ ask for replies to the form so that the campaign can “craft a winning messaging strategy.”

“There are policies in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. Census and this is an example of those being enforced,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement.

The online newsletter Popular Information, which first reported on the ads, said Facebook had earlier said they did not violate its policy. Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters question asking whether there had been an error or a change in its position.

Facebook, which has come under fire for allowing politicians to run misleading advertisements, said in December it would ban ads that aim to limit participation in the U.S. census, which officials and lawmakers fear could be targeted by disinformation aiming to disrupt the count.

The social media company said the Trump campaign’s ads violated its policy over “misrepresentation of the dates, locations, times and methods for census participation.”

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, slammed Facebook over the ads at a press conference on the census.

“This is, on the part of Facebook, a robust unacceptable interference in the census,” she said.

“I know the profit motive is their business model. But it should not come at the cost of counting who is in our country, so that we can provide the services and the rest.”

The census, which takes place once a decade, is expected to be filled out largely online for the first time in 2020.

Census officials have been concerned about disinformation since U.S. intelligence officials said that foreign actors – including Russia – attempted to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election through cyber-influence campaigns, a claim Moscow has denied. They feared the census, whose data is used to allocate seats in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, and to guide the federal government in allocating $1.5 trillion a year in aid, could be a target as well.

The Trump campaign and the Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.