Facebook accepts sponsored messages with fake news that would appear on the platform on March 20, 2019, the day of the Provincial Council elections in Netherlands. During the experiment Brandpunt+ planned ads with incorrect information about party leaders and polling stations via fake accounts. The majority was accepted by the moderators.
An editor posted six sponsored messages. Three posts were aimed at allowing voters from VVD or PvdA to stay at home, for example through reports about closed polling stations. Fake news about party leaders from government parties was published in three other advertisements. The messages would be placed on the election day so as to influence the voting behavior as much as possible.
Facebook only refused a message about CDA leader Buma, who would drive the housing market off the cliff to become rich themselves. The message was not rejected due to incorrect information, but because it contained discriminatory texts. As the editor who would get out of it, Facebook would post the message, was in an automatic message from the platform.
Messages about the leaders of ChristenUnie and VVD were accepted:
“Gert-Jan Segers secretly converted to Islam” and “Rutte himself earns millions to abolish dividend tax: secret equity portfolio”.
The editor could also post these messages about polling stations:
“Please note: the polling stations in your municipality are closed today! You can only vote tomorrow” and “Do not cycle through the rain to the polling station but just vote from home!”
The fact that Facebook does not refuse the ads probably means that they came online on March 20th. It is unclear how long they would be seen afterwards. Facebook users can report ads, after which the platform can retrieve them offline.
The ads would cost between 2500 and 5000 euros and that would reach 418,000 to 728,000 people. Some of the messages would be specifically placed with people who are interested in certain parties.
Brandpunt + also pulled back the ads, because the editors do not want to distribute fake news themselves.
According to Brandpunt +, Facebook says “take the accepted ads” very seriously. Facebook also suggests taking measures to combat the spread of incorrect information.
Yesterday it was announced that the government is likely to set up a campaign against fake news in the run-up to the upcoming elections. Minister Ollongren wants to make citizens more aware of disinformation and fake news. For example, the campaign should explain why people get certain type of messages and others do not.