Facebook has sold ads promoting anti-vaccine messages, comparing the US government’s response to Covid-19 to Nazi Germany, casting doubt on the result of the 2020 election, and even pushing political violence.
The ads have been run by merchandise companies that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook over the last few years.
On Monday, Fox News personality Lara Logan caused outrage by comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to a notorious Nazi doctor known as the “Angel of Death” — around the same time ads were running on Facebook promoting a sweater emblazed with the words, “I’m originally from America but I currently reside in 1941 Germany.”
Another ad compared the rollout of vaccines to the Holocaust — falsely and ludicrously implying they are part of an attempt to slaughter people on a mass scale.
The ad was run by a Facebook page named “Ride the Red Wave.” Earlier this year the page ran ads for a t-shirt with the words, “Make hanging traitors great again.”
Facebook has made more than $280,000 from ads run by “Ride the Red Wave” since May, according to data reviewed by CNN. The page has fewer than 10,000 followers, but by paying Facebook the people running the page can potentially reach millions of Americans.
“Next Level Goods,” another page, run by a different company, has spent more than $500,000 on Facebook ads since 2019. The company regularly uses Facebook to advertise anti-vaccine t-shirts.
One ad-buy in late August promoted a t-shirt that read “Proudly Unpoisoned” next to an image of a syringe. The company paid Facebook approximately $2,500 to reach up to 450,000 Facebook users with the anti-vaccine ad. According to Facebook data, the ads were most viewed by Facebook users in Texas, Florida, and California.
A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said the ads comparing the US Covid-19 response to Nazi Germany, comparing vaccines to the Holocaust, and the ad suggesting the vaccine was poison went against Facebook’s vaccine misinformation policies.
However, considering these violating ads ran on its platform, Facebook’s detection systems seemingly missed them.
CNN also asked about the ad that read “Make Hanging Traitors Great Again,” but Facebook did not say that ad broke its policies.
Publicly, Facebook has touted the purportedly positive role it is playing in encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. Guy Rosen, the company’s vice president of integrity, penned a blog post in July rebuking President Joe Biden for alleging that platforms like Facebook are killing people. Biden later backed away from the claim.
Laura Edelson, a researcher at NYU who tracks advertising on Facebook, told CNN that Facebook does not manually review all of the ads it sells — part of the reason why ads that violate its rules are allowed run on the platform.
Facebook, she said, also appears to have a lighter-touch moderation approach to ads from seemingly commercial pages, like those selling t-shirts, compared to pages associated with political campaigns.
“You will find a lot more of the really strong rhetoric printed on a t-shirt much more than you will see in a straight persuasion ad,” she told CNN.