After the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, an official Trump campaign committee took to Facebook with thousands of targeted ads alluding to the killing by U.S. forces.
“Thanks to the swift actions of our Commander-in-Chief, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is no longer a threat to the United States, or to the world,” read copy repeated across many of the advertisements.
Yet that ad, like a dozen more Trump campaign ads alluding to Soleimani visible through Facebook’s digital ad library, was removed by the social networking company “because it goes against Facebook Advertising Policies.”
The ads weren’t removed for celebrating the death of a controversial overseas leader or for anything else having to do with their political content. (Facebook, controversially, gives political campaigns great latitude about what they can say in ads). The problem, a Facebook spokesperson explained in an email to Fast Company, is rather that they included “fake buttons.” Each ad includes prominent “yes” and “no” buttons asking viewers to vote on whether or not they “believe America has the greatest military in the world.”
Those buttons, built into an image, don’t actually register a vote at all. Rather, clicking anywhere on the image links to a survey put up by the “Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and the Republican National Committee.” It collects users’ views on the military and national security, and probably most critically, their contact information so they can be sent future messages from the campaign.
“By providing your phone number, you are consenting to receive calls and SMS/MMS messages, including autodialed and automated calls and texts, to that number from each of the participating committees in the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and the Republican National Committee,” reads a message in tiny print at the bottom of the survey.
The Trump campaign didn’t respond to an inquiry from Fast Company about the ads.
Using the fake buttons, which essentially invite users to click under false pretenses to presumably show their support for the military, violates a Facebook policy on “nonexistent functionality.” It’s a technique used to falsely entice users to click since the early days of internet advertisements, when ads told users to click parts of images to cast a vote or win a dubious prize in Whac-a-Mole-style games.
Facebook expressly bans “ads containing features that do not work, such as multiple choice options in the ad creative itself.”