President Trump's campaign is flooding swing states with Facebook ads, urging people to request their ballots for November's election, despite his frequent and unfounded claims that voting by mail is riddled with fraud.
According to Facebook's ad archive, the president is currently running thousands of ads on Facebook, with messages like "President Trump wants you to request your ballot," or, more succinctly, "Request your ballot." The ads, which don't explicitly mention voting by mail, have been viewed more than 1 million times by Facebook users in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The Facebook ads are running as robocalls featuring the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., have rolled out in 13 states calling absentee voting "a safe and secure way to guarantee your voice is heard." Both messages are a far cry from the president's claims that "there is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent." This week, the FBI refuted those claims, saying they have "not seen to date a coordinated national voter fraud effort."
The ads aren't just about encouraging people to vote by mail. They also double as a data collection maneuver. Clicking through them leads to the Trump campaign's website, where people are asked to enter their address, date of birth, email and phone number, before being directed to resources where they can check their registration status, commit to vote or continue on to their state's board of elections. Generally, only first name, last name and date of birth are required to check registration status.
The ads double as a data collection maneuver.Screenshot: Facebook
President Trump's digital director, Gary Coby, did not immediately respond to Protocol's request for comment.
Facebook has recently undertaken its own voter turnout push, launching its Voter Information Center, which leads users to resources where they can sign up to vote by mail. Recently, the watchdog group Tech Transparency Project accused Facebook of bowing to the Trump campaign, after internal emails suggested the company scaled back its initial rollout of the Center over the July 4th weekend. Facebook's spokesperson Andy Stone told Protocol the emails were the result of a "miscommunication," but would not comment on whether the rollout was in fact scaled back.
Facebook introduced its ad archive after the 2016 election, amid concerns over so-called "dark ads," which referred to microtargeted digital ads that only a tiny fraction of the electorate would ever see. Some worried that politicians could send one palatable message to the public, then use targeted ads for more underhanded tactics like suppressing the vote. Amid threats of regulation, Facebook created the archive to shed more light on those dark ads.
In this set of ads, the Trump campaign is definitely broadcasting a different message than it has in public, only in this case, it's the public message that has people accusing the president of voter suppression.
The Trump campaign has tried to distinguish in the past between absentee voting — which the president and his wife, Melania, plan to do — and universal mail-in voting. But the ads make no such distinction. Neither, it turns out, does the U.S. Postal Service.