Lincoln Project Ad Censorship Highlights Facebook Double Standard
Rantt Media Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Baba contributed to this report
Last week, the Lincoln Project, a PAC led by several prominent Republicans who oppose President Trump, released an ad called “Mourning in America,” showing the devastating consequences of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. The ad has been censored by Facebook after one of its third-party fact-checking partners labeled the ad “Partly False.”
Jennifer Horn, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, described the ad as “depicting the newfound sense of helplessness and loss brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The group’s ad, posted on Facebook, was captioned: “Donald Trump’s failed presidency has left the nation weaker, sicker, and teetering on the verge of a new Great Depression.
“There’s mourning in America.”
Facebook’s fact-checking partner, PolitiFact, fact-checked one sentence in the ad, rendered a “False” rating on its Truth-O-Meter, and assigned the entire ad a “Partly False” rating on Facebook. The rating triggered the social media giant to censor the ad on its platform.
What’s more, PolitiFact’s fact-check of the ad did not address the primary message presented in the ad: the coronavirus is “a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored.” That primary message is true, and under Facebook’s policy, the ad would typically remain intact.
Aaron Sharockman, Executive Director of PolitiFact, told Rantt Media in an email:
“We fact-checked the claim, ‘Trump bailed out Wall Street, but not Main Street,’ in the Lincoln Project [ad] and found that to be False. As part of the Facebook Third Party Fact Checking Program, we assigned a rating of Partly False to the ad via Facebook (because we did not fact-check the entire ad).”
In an exclusive email, Rick Wilson, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, told Rantt Media: “Donald Trump’s latest political ad — ‘American Comeback’ — is a farrago of lies, distortions, exaggerations, wild bullshit, and unsound reasoning. Our small, honest effort was banned by Facebook, while the Bullshitter In Chief’s campaign runs free.”
Jennifer Horn responded last week to PolitiFact’s rating and Facebook’s ban of the ad, issuing a press release, stating:
“The Lincoln Project stands by every single word in our ad. Trump and his team are rattled. And it’s no surprise. We know that the one attack that Donald Trump can not confront is TRUTH. Facebook’s decision to censor The Lincoln Project is in error, but it will not silence us. We will not be bullied by this President or anyone else,” said Jennifer Horn, co-founder of The Lincoln Project. “We will continue to take every available avenue to educate the American people about the dangerous failures of this narcissistic, unstable, incompetent President.”
Sharockman told Rantt Media that per Facebook policy, “A ‘Partly False’ rating should be given when the primary claim is a mix of accurate and inaccurate, or when the primary claim is misleading or incomplete.”
However, PolitiFact did not fact-check the “primary claim” of the Lincoln Project ad; namely, that the coronavirus is “a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored.”
Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook, referred Rantt Media to his tweet. In it, Stone replied to MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, saying: “If a 3rd party fact-checker finds a super PAC or other outside group’s claim false or partly-false, it can’t run as an ad on FB. I get you disagree with the fact-check, but I don’t think you want us overruling independent fact-checkers. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot.”
Stone also referred Rantt Media to Facebook’s policy on third-party fact-checkers, showing rating options that include “False,” “Partly False,” or “True.”
However, PolitiFact’s rating system also includes “Half True” and “Mostly True” categories. In an item on PolitiFact’s website called, “How we determine Truth-O-Meter ratings,” we see labels including “True,” “Mostly True,” and “Half True,” in addition to gradations of false ratings.
We know from other videos left intact on Facebook that a “Half True” rating does not trigger Facebook to censor video content.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
PolitiFact has routinely rated statements by Trump as “Half True,” when, in fact, some of his statements could arguably be rated “False” or “Partly False.”
Facebook policy says that “Posts and ads from politicians are generally not subjected to fact-checking.” So this ad from the Trump campaign, posted on Facebook, and rife with falsehoods, remains intact.
Facebook’s stated policy of not fact-checking politicians reveals a stark double standard on Facebook. This policy disproportionately benefits Donald Trump, who has made over 18,000 false or misleading claims as President. The presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden does not have this track record of dishonesty. So in effect, Facebook’s policy allows the Trump Campaign to run on an uneven playing field as they continue to be a disseminator of disinformation.
Since 2016, Facebook has allowed the Trump Campaign to run misleading and blatantly false ads on its platform. Facebook did recently ban one of the Trump Campaign’s ads on the 2020 Census, but that was a rare occurrence. As we’ve already seen, Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale is continuing to use Facebook as their primary platform to gaslight voters ahead of the 2020 election.
While political speech from politicians is not fact-checked, language from PACs and other ad-makers are. The fact that Facebook refuses to hold President Trump to the standards they hold PACs raises numerous questions. When it comes to the “Mourning in America” ad specifically, it appears it would continue to run under the standards applied to the Trump Campaign.
Since PolitiFact has, by its own admission, only fact-checked one sentence in the ad — a sentence which was not the ad’s primary claim — even if PolitiFact stands by its rating, by definition, a “Half True” or “Mostly True” rating of the Lincoln Project ad would be more accurate.
Despite the appeal from the Lincoln Project to Facebook to remove the “erroneous [False] tag,” the ad will presumably remain blocked on Facebook — unless PolitiFact issues a correction of its rating.
The Trump Campaign issued a press release last week, rebutting the entirety of the Lincoln Project ad. Even the Campaign’s release prioritized the primary message of the Lincoln Project ad, first addressing the statement that the coronavirus is “a deadly virus Donald Trump ignored.”
Rantt Media’s reporting has recently prompted corrections from Fox News, The Washington Post, the New York Post, the Washington Times, and the Daily Mail.
PolitiFact’s methodology page states that “Updated fact-checks receive a tag of ‘Corrections and updates.’”
As of this writing, PolitiFact has not corrected nor updated its rating, and Facebook has not reinstated the Lincoln Project ad.
The Lincoln Project continues to call for correction and revision of the PolitiFact / Facebook tag on its ad.
In their press release, Jennifer Horn said the Lincoln Project “calls on Facebook to remove this erroneous tag and allow America to see the ‘Mourning in America’ ad on their platform.”