This Fake Green New Deal Ad Perfectly Illustrates Facebook's Bullshit Political Ad Policy

Photo: AP

Folks, I never thought I’d see the day any U.S. Republican, let alone Lindsey Graham, said they believed in the Green New Deal. But on Friday, I heard his voice utter those exact words in a Facebook ad.

“Simply put, we believe in the Green New Deal,” Graham intoned as string music swelled. There’s just one tiny problem: the ad is totally fake. And it lays bare how shitty Facebook’s political ad policy is.

The ad was created and bought just a day after Mark Zuckerberg was thoroughly dunked on by members of Congress during his recent visit to Capitol Hill. During one of the most withering exchanges, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg if she could run fake ads saying Republicans supported the Green New Deal.

“I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” a visibly flustered Zuckerberg said. “I think probably.”

The Really Online Lefty League, a left-leaning Political Action Committee, decided to put Zuckerberg’s mushy “probably” to the test. Adriel Hampton, the group’s treasurer, told Gizmodo he reached out to another group called the Institute for Progressive Memetics about cutting an ad linking the historic connections between conservatives and conservation (fancy that) and then sending it off the rails by making it appear modern Republicans were getting back to their roots and endorsing the Green New Deal.

They centred on using Graham, who made a speech in July advocating Republicans should stop burying their heads in the sand on climate change. Much of the footage and voiceover comes from that speech, and the group intentionally made a deceptive edit to make it appear he said he and other Republicans “believe in the Green New Deal.”

But Graham did not, however, endorse the Green New Deal in that speech nor at any other moment. In fact, he joined all Republicans in voting against it in a sham Senate vote in March and he’s called the resolution a “disaster.”

“There’s one tiny splice which, you know, folks might guess it is, but it makes the entire ad a blatant lie,” Hampton said.

Hampton said the ad buy was quickly approved and has since been shared about 168 times since last night. All for seven bucks. The ad has also gone viral on Twitter without a single dollar being spent, which is its own set of problems.

“It was wild because, even though you have Zuckerberg saying it would probably get approved, you’re still kind of thinking ‘this is a blatant lie, of course they’re going flag it or or stop it,’ and it’s a topic that’s been right in the news,” Hampton said. “If I were Mark Zuckerberg, I would’ve gotten back from that hearing and said, ‘hey, make sure no one makes a fake Green New Deal about Republicans.’”

That one splice exposes the grave danger Facebook ads pose as we careen toward the 2020 U.S. election. The site has been awash in racist, defamatory ads being run by Donald Trump and groups supporting him that are taking advantage of the fact that Facebook is a raging tire fire—and making it worse.

Then there are fake ads like Hampton’s that are trying to intentionally prove a point that the tire fire needs to be put out.

Hampton’s ad highlights how climate change—a topic already awash in denialist propaganda—could be one of the key issues Facebook ads can weaponise.

It’s depressing as hell to even say this, but it’s easy to imagine how an ad claiming a Republican candidate supports climate action could be targeted to conservatives as a voter suppression tool. Alternately, conservatives could run ads lying about how the Green New Deal will ban planes.

The fake Graham Green New Deal ad was up and running at the time of publication, and Gizmodo has reached out to Facebook to see if they plan on taking it down. If they do, that would suit Hampton just fine. But with a caveat.

“I think if they took down the ad it would be good, but I would hope that that would also mean they’re going to take down Trump’s ads that are lying,” he said.

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