HomeAsian AmericansKamala Harris Criticizes Facebook over Census Misinformation Ads

Kamala Harris Criticizes Facebook over Census Misinformation Ads

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Rep. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) took Facebook executives to task over misleading 2020 Census advertisements on its site.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg on March 5, Harris criticized the company for its “failure to enforce [its] policies banning misinformation.”

Facebook had run “thousands” of ads from Trump Make America Great Again, a fundraising arm of President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, asking users to take the “Official 2020 Congressional District Census.”

“President Trump needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today. We need to hear from you before the most important election in American history,” the ad said. It then asked users to “respond NOW” and text “TRUMP to 8022,” according to The New York Times.

But instead of being taken to the U.S. Census Bureau government site, users were instead redirected to a Trump campaign page with “misleading information on how to take the census,” including dates, times, locations, and methods, according to Harris’s letter. The census had not begun to survey the public at the time.

The ads were still approved and ran for “hours,” even after the company was made aware of the misinformation by Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Harris is just one of the Democrats criticizing Facebook for running the misleading ads. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it “a robust unacceptable interference in the census” in a press conference Thursday, The Hill reported.

In response, a Facebook spokesman replied that they received Harris’s letter and “look forward to clarifying the policies Facebook has in place to prevent confusion around the official U.S. census.”

The advertisements have since been removed, but Harris is concerned that the company’s initial approval of the ads is a signal that Facebook is “now backing away from full enforcement of those policies.” Such misinformation in future elections could result in voter disenfranchisement.

It is also a concern for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, which the U.S. Census Bureau has recognized as difficult to count, due to language barriers and the “large number of first-generation immigrants, estimated to be at least two-thirds of the over 22 million AAPI in the US,” according to an AsAm News story.

There’s already confusion, worry, and lack of knowledge about the census, which is why activist groups are taking it upon themselves to educate communities on the benefits of taking the census, including how the information may be used.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus member An Le had expressed concern about non-English speakers, particularly in California, who would fall through the cracks without appropriate outreach and information.

Gupta echoed the concerns of Harris and other civil rights leaders in a recent statement:

“While we’re gratified that Facebook shut down Trump’s attempt to sow confusion about how and when to participate in the 2020 census, it’s disturbing that the ads weren’t immediately removed,” Gupta said. “We will continue to hold Facebook accountable to enforce it. Nothing should distract from making sure everyone gets counted.”

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