Pelosi lambastes Facebook over Trump ad a week before census

Nancy Pelosi, Karen Bass, Joaquin Castro

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., flanked by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, left, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, speaks to the media about the 2020 Census and the concern for getting an accurate count in minority communities on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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A week before most people can start answering the 2020 census, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday chastised Facebook for allowing the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump to run ads directing people to a survey that she says people will confuse with the once-a-decade head count.

At a news conference held by House members from the black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian-Pacific caucuses, Pelosi called the survey sponsored by the Trump reelection campaign, “an absolute lie.”

“A lie that is consistent with the misrepresentation policy of Facebook,” Pelosi said. “But now they’re messing with who we are as Americans. I know the profit motive is their business model, but it should not come at the cost of counting who is in our country.”

Facebook on Thursday didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiry.

The ad says, “President Trump needs you to take the Official 2020 Congressional District Census today.” Clicking on a red button saying “Take the Survey” leads to a website with questions asking visitors about party affiliation, whether they intend to support Trump and which media organizations they get their information, among other questions.

Similar mailings have been distributed around the U.S.

Census Bureau officials have been on high alert for online misinformation aimed at confusing people about who is eligible to fill out the form or how to properly file it, along with imitation websites posing as the official census site.

The bureau has spent the last year forging relationships with the major tech platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Google — to put out accurate information about how the census works and yank misinformation about the form from their sites.

In January, Facebook began banning ads that discourage people from participating in the census or portray it as “useless.” The ban applies to ads on both Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook owns. The platform also announced that misleading posts about the census would be subject to removal. Typically, the platform does not remove false or misleading content from its site, unless it gives wrong information about voting.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators told U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, they felt misled by his testimony almost two years ago on the origins of the failed citizenship question. Ross was testifying Thursday before the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration last summer from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 questionnaire. The administration had said the question was being added to aid the Justice Department in enforcing a law that protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But the high court said the administration’s justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Opponents argued it would have intimidated immigrants, Hispanics and others from participating in the once-a-decade head count that determines how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is allocated and how many congressional seats each state gets.

“Your statements were totally false,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told Ross during the hearing. “There is now an avalanche of evidence showing you repeatedly pressured both the Justice Department and the Census Bureau for nearly a year to support adding the question.”

Ross denied misleading the senators.

“”My statements were correct then. They were true then. They are correct now. They are true now,” Ross said.

Leahy responded, “The evidence we’ve seen shows they were not true.”

This is the census in which the Census Bureau is encouraging most people to answer the questionnaire online, although people can still answer the questions by telephone or by mailing in a paper form. Residents can start answering the form next Thursday.


Amanda Seitz contributed to this report from Chicago.


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