Facebook Removes Ads Identifying Alleged Ukraine Whistleblower

Audrey Conklin on November 8, 2019

Facebook is removing all mentions of the potential Ukraine whistleblower’s name on the social media platform, a spokesperson said Friday.

Facebook removed ads Wednesday North Carolina businessman Tim D’Annunzio, who operates a page aimed at Christian users, funded that identified the alleged Ukraine whistleblower by name after hundreds of thousands of users had already seen them, The Washington Post reported.

“Any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing of witness, informant or activist.’ We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media,” a Facebook spokesperson said, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy.

The tech giant faced criticism from the whistleblower’s attorneys over ads naming the alleged CIA official, whose identity is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The whisteblower filed a complaint in August saying President Donald Trump made a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July asking him to look into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country.

Andrew Bakaj, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys, told the Post that Facebook has a responsibility to protect “those who lawfully expose suspected government wrongdoing.”

“This is particularly significant in this case where I have made it clear time and time again that reporting any suspected name for the whistleblower will place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm,” Bakaj told the Post.

“To that end, I am deeply troubled with Facebook seeking to profit from advertising that would place someone in harm’s way. This, frankly, is at the pinnacle of irresponsibility and is intentionally reckless,” he continued.

Former State Department official and 2014 whistleblower John Tye said the ads may have been “illegal,” the Post reported.

“If the ads are meant to intimidate and harass and threaten people, that would be wrong, and it might be illegal,” Tye told the Post. “Certainly, if it were being commercialized, getting paid to participate in that would be wrong.”

Facebook has come under severe scrutiny in recent weeks for its political ad policy, which allows political ads to be posted to Facebook without an independent source fact-checking them.

Several members of Congress brought up the policy during an Oct. 23 House Financial Services Committee hearing regarding Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency plan.

“Our policy is that we do not fact check politician’s speech. … We believe that in a democracy it is important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said during the hearing in response to a question from House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, a California Democrat.

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