CHICAGO – Social media has become the target of a dueling attack ad campaign being waged online by the sitting president and his election rival. They're shooting the messenger while giving it lots of money.
President Donald Trump has bought hundreds of messages on Facebook to accuse its competitor, Twitter, of trying to stifle his voice and influence the November election.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden has spent thousands of dollars advertising on Facebook with a message of his own: In dozens of ads on the platform, he's asked supporters to sign a petition calling on Facebook to remove inaccurate statements, specifically those from Trump.
The major social media companies are navigating a political minefield as they try to minimize domestic misinformation and rein in foreign actors from manipulating their sites as they did in the last U.S. presidential election. Their new actions — or in some cases, lack of action — have triggered explosive, partisan responses, ending their glory days as self-described neutral platforms.
Even as the two presidential campaigns dump millions of dollars every week into Facebook and Google ads that boost their exposure, both are also using online ads to criticize the tech platforms for their policies. Trump is accusing Twitter and Snapchat of interfering in this year’s election. Biden has sent multiple letters to Facebook and attacked the company for policies that allow politicians, Trump specifically, to freely make false claims on its site. Biden is paying Facebook handsomely to show ads that accuse Facebook of posing a “threat” to democracy.
Meantime Trump is paying Facebook to run ads trashing the medium he uses like none other, Twitter.
“Twitter is interfering in the 2020 Election by attempting to SILENCE your President,” claimed one of nearly 600 ads Trump’s campaign placed on Facebook
It’s “a huge departure from 2016,” said Emerson Brooking, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a Washington think-tank. “If you were leading the Trump or Clinton campaign, you weren’t writing letters to Facebook all day long. It wasn’t so much a central campaign issue. Now it seems like it very much is.”