Trump, Biden campaigns slam Facebook after ‘technical issues’ impact political ads


Facebook is trying to curb the spread of misinformation ahead of Election Day.

Angela Lang/CNET

Campaign officials for President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are both taking aim at Facebook, accusing the world’s largest social network of erroneously blocking their ads days before the Nov. 3 election.

Facebook stopped accepting new political ads on Oct. 27 as part of the company’s effort to safeguard the integrity of the US election. However, ads approved before that deadline can still run through Nov. 3. 

Facebook said in a blog post on Thursday that “technical flaws” in the company’s system caused some approved ads to be improperly paused after the new ad restrictions took effect. Advertisers also had trouble making changes to their ads. Some ads were blocked because advertisers made changes to the target audience shortly before the deadline.

The errors have sparked concerns from both campaigns that Facebook is enforcing its rules in a way that could benefit one political party over the other in the crucial days before the election. The problems highlight the challenges involved in enforcing the political ad ban, which was adopted to safeguard election integrity. Russian trolls have used Facebook to sow discord among Americans in the 2016 US presidential election.

“No ad was paused or rejected by a person, or because of any partisan consideration,” Facebook said in the blog post. “The technical problems were automated and impacted ads from across the political spectrum and both presidential campaigns.” The world’s largest social network has said it will temporarily stop running all US social issue, electoral or political ads after the polls close on Nov. 3 to “reduce opportunities for confusion and abuse.” 

By Friday, the Trump and Biden campaigns said they were still running into problems with Facebook ads.

Megan Clasen, an advisor for Biden, tweeted on Friday that thousands of pre-approved Facebook ads still weren’t live on the social network.

Biden’s campaign estimates it’s lost more than $500,000 in projected donations from being unable to run fundraising ads on Facebook.

“It is currently unclear to us whether or not Facebook is giving Donald Trump an unfair electoral advantage in this particular instance, but it is abundantly clear that Facebook was wholly unprepared to handle this election despite having four years to prepare,” said Rob Flaherty, the digital director for Biden’s campaign, in a statement on Thursday.

Samantha Zager, a spokeswoman for the Trump’s re-election campaign, said in a statement on Friday that banning new political ads limits their ability to talk about important issues such as economic growth and push back against Biden.

“The Silicon Valley mafia is now turning it up a notch, stopping us from running approved ads in the days before millions of Americans cast their ballots,” Zater said. “This is not a coincidence — Facebook is blocking our campaign ads that follow their own ridiculous rules, simply because they are working against President Trump. This not a bug, this is corporate election interference.”

Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said Thursday during the company’s earnings call that political and government ads were a “low single digit percentage” of Facebook’s ad revenue in the third quarter.

Both campaigns have spent millions of dollars on Facebook ahead of Election Day.

Biden’s Facebook page spent more than $95 million on ads about social issues, politics and elections from May 2018 to Oct. 28, 2020, according to Facebook’s political ads database. Trump’s Facebook page spent more than $108 million on these ads during the same time period.

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