In Virginia House Race, Anonymous Attack Ads Pop Up on Facebook

A competitive race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District has an alarming new element: anonymous attack ads on Facebook.

The ads, which appeared on a Facebook page called “Wacky Wexton Not,” were purchased by a critic of Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat trying to unseat Representative Barbara Comstock, a Republican. The race is one of the most closely watched in the country.

The ads paint Ms. Wexton as an “evil socialist,” with language and imagery not typically found in even the roughest campaigns. In one ad, which began running on Monday, Ms. Wexton is pictured next to an image of Nazi soldiers, and the ad’s text refers to her supporters as “modern-day brown shirts.” In another, which first ran this month, Ms. Wexton is compared to Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused the new Supreme Court justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh, of sexual assault. The image is captioned: “What’s the difference??? Nothing!! Both are liars.”

The person or group behind the ads is known to Facebook, but a mystery to the public. The funding disclaimer attached to the ads reads, simply, “Paid for by a freedom loving American Citizen exercising my natural law right, protected by the 1st Amendment and protected by the 2nd Amendment.” There is no other identifying information on the page.

Aaron Fritschner, a spokesman for the Wexton campaign, said, “The Wexton campaign is reviewing the bizarre, false ads unearthed by The New York Times and the page sponsoring them, which appears to be designed to spread disinformation, to determine whether they comply with applicable rules.”

Ms. Wexton’s opponent quickly denied any role. “We are not involved with that page in any way, shape or form,” said Susan Falconer, Ms. Comstock’s campaign manager. A Facebook message sent to the page was not returned.

Since 2016, when Facebook ads were used to spread disinformation and Russian propaganda ahead of the presidential election, the social network has clamped down on political advertisers. Users trying to buy political ads on Facebook are required to verify their identities, including proving that they have a mailing address in the United States. And all political ads are required to carry a “paid for by” disclaimer, detailing which person or organization purchased them.

But the owner of “Wacky Wexton Not” was able to remain anonymous by taking advantage of a loophole in Facebook’s policy. Once authorized to pay for political ads, buyers are able to fill the “paid for by” field with whatever text they want, even if it does not match the name of a Facebook user or page, and even if it is not an organization registered with the Federal Election Commission. Facebook does not reveal the identity of authorized ad buyers, or allow users to get more information about them.

A Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, said that the ads on “Wacky Wexton Not” were allowed under the company’s current policies, but that the company was working on improving the disclosure feature. He said Facebook did not disclose the identity of the people authorized to buy political ads in order to protect those users’ privacy.

“One of the important aspects of the ad archive is the meaningful transparency it provides,” Mr. Stone said. “Now political and issue ads that run on Facebook are available and open for public scrutiny so that voters, journalists and researchers can all ask questions about who is behind those ads.”

Under current Federal Election Commission rules, political committees are required to disclose their digital ad spending in public filings, and include financial disclosures similar to those found on broadcast and print ads. But the commission has struggled to come up with definitive rules that would apply to all digital advertising platforms, including Facebook.

As Facebook pages go, “Wacky Wexton Not” is tiny — the page has only four followers, and has posted only around 40 times. The page has purchased about 30 political ads since August, most of which cost less than $100, and have been seen by fewer than 1,000 people.

According to Facebook’s political ad archive, which includes basic information about ad targeting, most of the ads purchased by the page were viewed by men in Virginia, although some women and residents of Maryland also viewed them.

Virginia’s 10th District, which has a larger than average number of college graduates and a large immigrant population, is a top target for Democrats as they aim to take back control of the House.

Most polls have Ms. Wexton solidly in the lead, and the Cook Political Report, an independent political analyst, has rated the race “lean Democratic.”

Source link

more recommended stories

  • Mueller Report Expected to Go to Justice Department Within Weeks

    WASHINGTON — The new attorney general,.

  • CNN Is Criticized for Hiring Trump Administration Aide as a Political Editor

    Sarah Isgur Flores, a Republican spokeswoman.

  • On Politics: Inside Trump’s War on the Investigations Encircling Him

    Good Wednesday morning. Here are some.

  • Bernie Sanders on the Issues: Where He Stands and What Could Derail Him

    The measure, drafted by Representative Alexandria.

  • Elizabeth Warren’s Native American Ancestry Draws a Shrug From These Voters

    “She definitely made a mistake,” he.

  • Anthony Weiner Is Out of Prison, and in a Re-Entry Center in Brooklyn

    [What you need to know to.

  • Heather Nauert Withdraws From Consideration as U.N. Ambassador

    PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump’s.

  • Watch Out. Tax Season Is Even More Stressful Than Usual.

    Take a deep breath, a drink,.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Returns to Work at Supreme Court

    WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

  • Ilhan Omar Confronts Venezuela Envoy About Iran-Contra Affair and Human Rights – Video

    Channels & Shows Home Search U.S..

  • With Procedural Maneuver, House G.O.P. Elevates Anti-Semitism as Political Issue

    The National Republican Congressional Committee blasted.

  • Unmistakable Divide Among Women in Virginia Over Accusations Against Fairfax

    It is an even more awkward.

  • As Primary Season Begins, Who Can Grab Trump by the Ratings?

    You can tell how deeply Donald.

  • On Politics With Lisa Lerer: The Sexism Shield

    Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your.

  • ‘He May Not Even Be a Free Person,’ Elizabeth Warren Says of Trump in 2020

    CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Countless Democratic.

  • Mission ‘Accomplished’? Trump Boasts of Being Boon for Military

    WASHINGTON — Over the past two.

  • Unlikely Partnership in House Gives Lawmakers Hope for Border Deal

    WASHINGTON — When it became clear.

  • In Surprise Abortion Vote, Roberts Avoids ‘Jolt to the Legal System’

    Mr. Specter, at the time a.

  • On Politics: ‘Green New Deal’ Plan Is Unveiled

    Liberal Democrats hope to redefine the.

  • Albany’s ‘Wonder Twins’ Form a Power Duo, Challenging Cuomo’s Influence

    [What you need to know to.

  • Virginia Attorney General Says He Also Dressed in Blackface

    RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark.

  • Beto O’Rourke to Make 2020 Decision by End of February

    Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat whose.

  • On Politics: Scandal Splits Top Virginia Democrats

    Good Tuesday morning. Here are some.

  • Attacking a Pay Wall That Hides Public Court Filings

    WASHINGTON — The federal judiciary has.

  • Trump Won’t Commit to Making Mueller Report Public

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President.

  • ‘I Am Not Either of the People in That Photo’ – Video

    Channels & Shows Home Search Politics.

  • Justice Alito Temporarily Blocks a Louisiana Abortion Law

    WASHINGTON — Saying the Supreme Court.

  • Trump Discusses ‘Fake News,’ and Its Repercussions, With Times’s Publisher

    “And I think I am, too,”.

  • Sanders Unveils Estate Tax Plan, Joining Democrats Who Want to Tax the Rich

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a.

  • Kamala Harris’s Misleading Answer About a Police Shooting Bill

    What Was Said Jake Tapper, CNN.

  • After a Shutdown Test of Wills Comes a Test of Governance

    By the nature of their role.

  • On Politics: A Pro-Israel Bill Also Aims to Divide Democrats

    The legislation, which allows state and.