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Facebook has removed campaigns ad by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that featured an upside-down red triangle, a symbol once used by Nazis to designate political prisoners, communists and others in concentration camps.
Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of security policy, confirmed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday that the ads had been removed, saying Facebook does not permit symbols of hateful ideology “unless they’re put up with context or condemnation.”
“In a situation where we don’t see either of those, we don’t allow it on the platform and we remove it. That’s what we saw in this case with this ad, and anywhere that that symbol is used, we would take the same action,” Gleicher said.
The ad began running on Wednesday.
In a statement, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the inverted red triangle was a symbol used by Antifa, “so it was included in an ad about Antifa.” He said the symbol is not included in the Anti-Defamation League’s database of symbols of hate.
“But it is ironic that it took a Trump ad to force the media to implicitly concede that Antifa is a hate group,” he added.
Antifa is an umbrella term for leftist militants bound more by belief than organizational structure. Trump has blamed Antifa for the violence that erupted during some of the recent protests, but federal law enforcement officials have offered little evidence of this.
Gleicher appeared with representatives of Twitter and Google at a hearing centered on efforts by the technology companies to police the spread of disinformation, tied to both the election and COVID-19, on the platforms. That is a significant challenge in a country facing potentially dramatic changes in how people vote, with expected widespread use of mail-in ballots creating openings to cast doubt on the results and even spread false information.
Facebook said Thursday that it is working to help Americans vote by mail, including by notifying users about how to request ballots and whether the date of their state’s election has changed.
The Vote By Mail notification connects Facebook users to information about how to request a ballot. It is targeted to voters in states where no excuse is needed to vote by mail or where fears of the coronavirus are accepted as a universal excuse.
In working to facilitate voting by mail during the pandemic, the company is stepping onto politically sensitive ground. Trump and other Republicans are trying to limit such voting, while Democrats are pushing it to boost turnout.
Democrats pressed the Facebook and Twitter representatives on why certain content, including tweets by Trump referencing the shooting of looters and a video that was doctored to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look intoxicated, were not taken down and remained on their platforms. The questions were part of persistent criticism of Facebook by Democrats who say CEO Mark Zuckerberg has refused to take action on inflammatory posts by Trump.
The hearing came as Big Tech faces increasing pressure to monitor content and be transparent about the accuracy of information visible to users. Twitter has begun labeling tweets based on manipulated media that are attempting to confuse and mislead people, and has taken steps to prohibit paid political advertising, including by government-controlled news media entities.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, proposed this week rolling back legal protections for technology companies for material posted on their platforms.
Of particular concern heading into November are foreign influence operations, reliant on bogus social media accounts, aimed at swaying opinion. An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller revealed a vast Russian effort to sow discord on the internet during the 2016 presidential election campaign by playing up divisive social issues.
Facebook said that two days before the 2018 elections, it dismantled more than 100 accounts linked to the same operation. Between January and March of this year, the company said it dismantled roughly 1.7 billion accounts.
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