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Facebook Removes Trump Ads with Nazi Symbol Used in Concentration Camps

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Facebook Removes Trump Ads with Nazi Symbol Used in Concentration Camps

2020-06-19 11:13:54

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Facebook webpage (Image source: Public domain)

In a move both puzzling and surprising, while also causing anger in some, Donald Trump's campaign placed ads and posts on Facebook against Antifa that included a Nazi symbol used in concentration camps. While Facebook has treated the president's content with kid gloves in some cases, this time the social network removed the ads. 

Communists were identified in the 1930s with a red inverted triangle. It was also used for social Democrats, liberals, Freemasons, and other opposition parties that were held by Nazis. Jewish political prisoners wore a red triangle on a yellow triangle that resembled a Star of David symbol.

The paid content that was sponsored by Trump, Team Trump, and Mike Pence used the red triangle. Text appeared with it, warning of "Dangerous MOBS." It asked people to sign a petition about Antifa, a group the Trump administration has blamed for the racial violence, despite existing evidence proving only minimal involvement. 

Facebook removed the ads after being questioned by The Washington Post. It explained the ads and organic posts with the symbol violated its policy against organized hate.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said, "Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol." 

Before it could be taken down, however, just the ads on Trump's page garnered 950,000 impressions. The ads that were placed on Pence's page earned as many as 500,000 impressions. A total of 88 ads with the symbol were run across all the pages.

Facebook's head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, was questioned by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. 

"We obviously want to be careful to allow someone to put up a symbol to condemn it or to discuss it," Gleicher explained. "But in a situation where we don't see either of those, we don't allow it on the platform, and we'll remove it. That's what we saw in this case with this ad, and anywhere that symbol is used, we would take the same action." 

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said, "The red triangle is an Antifa symbol," and pointed to iPhone cases and water bottles that bore the symbol. However, the more typical symbol of the movement is a red flag and a black flag inside a circle.

"We would note that Facebook still has an inverted red triangle emoji in use, which looks exactly the same, so it's curious that they would target only this ad," he stated. 

Some of the symbols used by the Nazis have been reclaimed, and this includes the pink triangle that was used to label gay inmates inside concentration camps. But the red triangle has not been reclaimed, according to Jacob S. Eder, a historian of modern Germany at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin.

"I think it's a highly problematic use of a symbol that the Nazis used to identify their political enemies," he explained. "It's hard to imagine it's done on purpose, because I'm not sure if the vast majority of Americans know or understand the sign, but it's very, very careless, to say the least." 

This was not a lone action by Facebook against the Trump campaign. The company removed ads in March that it said included misleading references to the U.S. Census. This was after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and others took the social media company to task for allowing the posts.

For the most part, though, Facebook has vowed not to police political posts. This has led to internal turmoil at the company and has separated it from Twitter that fact-checked Trump's post last month, leading to Trump starting the ball rolling on legislation that will hold social media accountable for its content. 

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, defended his approach with Trump and said he worried that a different approach would lead "us to editorialize on content we don't like even if it doesn't violate our policies."

Initially, Facebook felt the symbol did not go against its rules. A user who reported the symbol received a message back that said the symbol "doesn't go against one of our specific community standards." 

A Facebook policy executive said Thursday that deliberations were ongoing but that the red triangle was "common enough that it's an emoji in most keyboards, including on Facebook." The exec added that the "triangle without any more context clearly doesn't violate the letter" of policies prohibiting symbols for hate organizations.

There was a push by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and others to remove the Trump ads with that symbol. Murtaugh noted the symbol is not included in the Anti-Defamation League's database of hate symbols. Yet, the ADL's CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, found the use of the symbol politically "offensive and deeply troubling." 

"It is not difficult for one to criticize their political opponent without using Nazi-era imagery," said Greenblatt in a statement. "We implore the Trump campaign to take greater caution and familiarize themselves with the historical context before doing so. Ignorance is not an excuse for appropriating hateful symbols."

ADL spokesman Jake Hyman added that the symbol is not in the hate database because the inventory is not for "historical Nazi symbols" but rather for "symbols commonly used by modern extremists and white supremacists in the United States." 

Four years ago Trump was again using symbolism seen as anti-Semitic. He tweeted and then deleted a graphic that showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alongside $100 bills and a six-pointed Star of David, the symbol Nazis forced Jewish people to wear on their clothing. He insisted then in a statement that it was not anti-Semitic because it represented a sheriff's badge and not the Star of David.

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