Facebook banned the second-largest supplier of pro-Trump ads on its platform, the Epoch Times, after the group tried to sneak thousands of ads past its review system, according to an NBC report Thursday.
The conservative and vehemently anti-communist publication has purportedly spent more than $1.5 million on Facebook advertising supporting President Donald Trump in the last six months, making it the largest such contributor other than the Trump campaign itself. Bizarrely enough, an NBC investigation linked the Epoch Times’ administration to a Chinese religious group that “believes in an upcoming judgment day that will send communists to hell, and says that Trump is helping accelerate that timeline.” Yes, I wish I was making this up. And yes, the publication has confirmed this, though editor-in-chief Jasper Fakker later clarified to Business Insider that the Epoch Times is only affiliated with these doomsday prophesiers, not owned by any of their ranks. Which is clearly much more sensible.
Many of the Epoch Times’ videos ads push similarly bizarre conservative conspiracy theories and feature unidentified spokespeople praising Trump. Despite this, the Epoch Times purportedly told Business Insider these ads were non-partisan plugs for the publication’s print version.
NBC investigated the group’s spending on the platform through Facebook’s advertising archives, and reported that the Epoch Times’ shifted its funding in July after several journalists began looking into whether these ads violated Facebook’s policies. Rather than continuing to run its ads on clearly affiliated pages, the publication began posting them to accounts with generic names like Honest Paper, Patriots of America, and Best News.
While Epoch Times cited itself in the “paid for” section of video ads on its previous accounts, identical ads on these new pages were attributed to companies with even more generic names. Many also included links to Epoch Times’ subscription page disguised as links to other websites. According to Facebook’s ad policies, an ad must include a disclaimer detailing who sponsored it and landing pages have to match whatever’s promoted in the ad’s text.
After a review prompted by NBC, Facebook booted these accounts and banned Epoch Times from advertising on the platform in the future. A Facebook spokesperson provided the following statement to media outlets:
“Over the past year we removed accounts associated with the Epoch Times for violating our ad policies, including trying to get around our review systems. We acted on additional accounts today and they are no longer able to advertise with us.”
Gizmodo has reached out to both Facebook and the Epoch Times and will update this story with their responses.
So in summary, Facebook purportedly had to kick ads from one of Trump’s biggest advertisers, an anti-communist newspaper linked to a doomsday cult, off its platform after they tried to sneak past its policies. What even is 2019 anymore.