In a 180-degree departure from its longstanding policy on political ads, Facebook on Thursday removed dozens of advertisements posted by the Trump campaign that featured an infamous Nazi symbol, saying the image violated company policy.
The controversial ads, which took aim at demonstrators in recent Black Lives Matter protests, contained posts saying that “dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem” and presented the imagery of an inverted red triangle used by Nazis to identify communists in concentration camps during World War II.
“We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate,” Facebook said in a statement. “Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”
However, more than a million people had already seen those ads, according to The New York Times.
Facebook has faced mounting public and internal backlash for months over its lack of fact-checking on political content and unwillingness to place warnings on violent speech, as Twitter has done. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has insisted that in a democracy people should “judge for themselves the character of politicians.” Yet, as the 2020 Presidential election draws close, he’s been making small concessions, such as adding user options to block certain ads. Up until Thursday, Facebook’s ultimate fix was to allow U.S. users to turn off political ads altogether.
“For those of you who’ve already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you—so we’re also introducing the ability to turn off seeing political ads. We’ll still remind you to vote,” Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed in the USA Today on Tuesday.
Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, addressed the ads removal during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
“We obviously want to be careful to allow someone to put up a symbol to condemn it or to discuss it,” he said. “But in a situation where we don’t see either of those, we don’t allow it on the platform and we’ll remove it. That’s what we saw in this case with this ad, and anywhere that symbol is used, we would take the same action.”
In defense of the deleted ads, the Trump campaign’s communications director Tim Murtaugh argued that the red triangle is a common Antifa symbol used in Anti-fascist advertisements, per The Washington Post, which first spotted the ads. Murtaugh added that the red triangle looks similar to a Facebook emoji and that it’s not listed as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based Jewish organization.