Facebook Bans Ads From The Epoch Times

Facebook banned advertising from The Epoch Times, the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet, as the social network struggles to implement a consistent political advertising policy.

Facebook issued the ban on Friday after NBC News published a report this week that said The Epoch Times had obscured its connection to recent Facebook ads promoting President Trump and conspiracy content.

The Epoch Times, started in 2000 by a group of Chinese-Americans affiliated with the religious group Falun Gong, has in recent years ridden the wave of conservative, pro-Trump social media popularity to build a large social media following. On its website, it advances conspiracy content such as anti-vaccination theories, while its YouTube channels promote the pro-Trump fringe movement QAnon and other topics.

The Epoch Times’s official Facebook accounts were banned by the social network in July. But according to the NBC report, it then ran new Facebook ads without disclosing that they were associated with the outlet. The ads ran under page names such as “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism” and purchased by MarketFuel Subscription Services and Perpetual Market, which are decoy names for The Epoch Times, according to NBC News.

“Over the past year we removed accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our ad policies,” Tom Channick, a Facebook representative, said in a statement. “We acted on additional accounts today, and they are no longer able to advertise with us.”

Stephen Gregory, publisher of The Epoch Times, said in a statement that Facebook did not earlier respond to requests for clarification on why its ads were taken down, so it began “publishing its advertising on a number of other, new Facebook pages.” He added that “these ads were overtly Epoch Times advertisements for our subscription.”

But The Epoch Times was apparently able to sidestep those rules before being caught.

The tactic mirrors that used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency to launder disinformation across social movements by creating impostor pages, according to Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center. “The weaponizing of advertising is crucial for growing the audiences for this disinformation,” she said.

Ms. Donovan added that researchers and journalists have essentially turned into “glorified content moderators,” searching for ad content that violates Facebook’s rules.

The Epoch Times spent around $2 million on Facebook ads, NBC News said, many of them pro-Trump. Facebook declined to comment on the publication’s amount of spending on its platform.

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