Facebook, Google reportedly helped anti-refugee campaign

The ads, designed to spread fear about refugees, were targeted to swing states during the US presidential election, reports Bloomberg.

Alfred Ng
Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
2 min read

One of the ads that Facebook reportedly helped develop.

Alfred Ng/CNET (Screenshot via YouTube)

Facebook and Google reportedly helped develop ads that went against their public values.

Facebook and Google have both publicly supported refugees. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg promised in 2015 to bring internet access to refugee camps, and the search engine giant donated more than $20 million in grants for the refugee crisis.  

But the companies' ad support staff may have been weaving a different story. 

Ad teams for both Facebook and Google worked closely with Harris Media, an ad agency, to develop an anti-refugee campaign during the 2016 US presidential election, reported Bloomberg on Wednesday. The ads were targeted in swing states like Nevada and North Carolina in the hopes of influencing voters, said Bloomberg.

The ads, led by conservative advocacy group Secure America Now, were designed to instill fear of immigrants and refugees, said Bloomberg. The group reportedly paid millions for ads from Facebook and Google. 

Secure America Now didn't respond to a request for comment.  

Both tech companies have been the subject of debate recently over their role in dealing with controversial and political advertisers. For example, both of their ad platforms were criticized last month for letting marketers buy ads targeting racist terms such as "Jew haters." They've also been tangled up in Congressional investigations into ads purchased by what now appear to be Russian agents who were attempting to interfere in the US election.

Google said it has strict policies around ads that are "vigorously" enforced. "When we find ads that violate these policies, we immediately disapprove and stop showing them," said a Google spokesperson.

A Facebook spokesman said the company "provides best practice advice and information about our products to organizations across the political spectrum.

One of the ads was a faux tourism video that showed spots around France like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre overtaken by ISIS because of refugees. The Secure America Now ads were viewed millions of times on Facebook and Google, according to the report. 

Facebook has also faced criticism for getting involved with political ads, with President Donald Trump's digital director Brad Parscale boasting that he had "embeds" within the social network

Facebook reportedly tested out a new vertical video format with the Secure America Now campaign. A source familiar with the collaboration told Bloomberg that Facebook worked directly with Harris Media to test the new video format.

First published, Oct. 18, 9:51 a.m. PT.
Update, 1:15 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Google.

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