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Facebook bans The Epoch Times ads after major pro-Trump purchase

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Facebook has banned The Epoch Times, a conservative news agency that has spent more money on pro-Trump Facebook advertising than any other group besides the Trump campaign, from any future advertising on the platform.

The ruling follows a report by NBC News that the Epoch Times postponed its spending on Facebook last month, ostensibly to disguise its association with approximately $ 2 million worth of ads targeting the president and conspiracy theories about his political enemies promoted.

“Last year we removed accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our advertising policies, including trying to bypass our verification systems,” said a Facebook spokesman. “We reacted to additional accounts today and they can no longer advertise with us.”

Facebook’s decision was the result of a review sparked by questions from NBC News. The spokesman stated that advertisements must contain disclaimers that accurately reflect the names of the sponsors of the advertisement.

The Epoch Times’ new method of spreading pro-Trump conspiracy ads on Facebook, under the names of “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism,” enabled the organization to redeem its multimillion-dollar spending on black money advertising hide, thereby bypassing Facebook’s political advertising transparency rules. The ban on Facebook will only affect The Epoch Times’ ability to buy ads; The Sock-Mariont pages that were created to host the new non-compliant ads were still active at the time of publication.

Nicholas Fouriezos, a reporter for the OZY website, tweeted about the move on Thursday. It was first discovered last week by Lachlan Markay of The Daily Beast.

A recent investigation by NBC News revealed how The Epoch Times had evolved from a nonprofit newspaper spreading the anti-communist message of a Sino-US religious movement to a conservative online news giant that featured President Donald Trump and conspiracy content.

The religious group that quietly runs the paper believes in a coming Judgment Day that will send the communists to hell and says Trump is helping to speed up that schedule.

The Epoch Times’ sales have more than doubled since 2016 and the reach of its online content exceeded that of any other news organization, drawing billions of views across its many platforms. It also rose to prominence on the conservative media scene, garnering interviews with Trump cabinet members, loyalists and family members, as well as members of Congress and Republican media stars.

By mid-July, the Epoch Times had advertised on accounts that clearly indicated their affiliation with the broader organization. Through the Coverage of the Trump Presidency by The Epoch Times umbrella account, the news organization spent $ 1.5 million on more than 11,000 Trump-friendly Facebook ads last year.

In May, after a popular newsletter from progressive nonprofit ACRONYM highlighted the Epoch Times’ major Facebook issues, journalist Judd Legum noted in his newsletter how many of the ads violated Facebook’s guidelines. NBC News reporters reached out to The Epoch Times in June, which resulted in a defensive open letter from the website’s editor.

In July, the Epoch Times’ official accounts stopped showing ads on Facebook, including a search on the Facebook Ads Library, their transparency tool designed to make it easier to find information behind ads that focus on politics or issues of national concern relate .”

The ads are still running, just not under the official accounts. By mid-July, the Epoch Times ads were moved to multiple pages with obscure names like Honest Paper, Patriots of America, Pure American Journalism, and Best News. Other Epoch Times ads were sponsored by a now defunct site called The News Express.

The Epoch Times spent more than $ 450,000 on thousands of ads on these five accounts in the past 30 days. It is unclear whether there are other accounts.

Multiple anonymous customers will now appear in the “Paid” section of each ad. Where earlier Epoch Times ads were clearly labeled as paid for by The Epoch Times, ads now claim to have been paid for by groups like Chronicle Media or MarketFuel Subscription Services.

The new ads encourage potential customers to visit similarly generic websites such as: B. Genuinenewspaper.com and truthandtradition.news, websites that were privately registered on July 24th and 25th, respectively, according to a search on DomainTools, a domain research company. These pages both redirect to The Epoch Times subscription page.

The Epoch Times editor, Stephen Gregory, did not respond to an email request for comment prior to the original publication of this article. Three days after posting, Gregory emailed NBC News a statement disregarding his attempt to bypass Facebook’s verification systems by running his ads on unbranded pages, the reason for banning Facebook but claiming that the article “grossly misrepresents” nature. the advertising of the news agency.

Gregory said: “The Epoch Times ads are print subscription ads that describe our newspaper’s coverage – a popular practice among many publishers – and each of these ads was approved by Facebook prior to being published.”

The Epoch Times’ growth and legitimacy is in large part due to Facebook, which placed $ 2 million in pro-Trump ads last year, more than any other organization outside of Trump’s re-election campaign and more than most of the Democratic presidential candidates spent the same time on their own campaigns.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist who advised The Epoch Times on how to break into the broader conservative movement, told NBC News that he arranged the introduction to the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and arranged dozens of interviews with right-wing newsmakers .

Although he doesn’t manage their social media strategy – Steinhauser said the Epoch Times handles this in-house – he said that creating multiple pages and accounts without clearly identifying their connection to the broader organization is a common practice, that of public relations or political campaigns being used by subscribers and donors.

TO UPDATE (Aug 26, 2019, 1:20 p.m. ET): This article has been updated with a response from the editor of The Epoch Times.

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