39 Times Facebook Interfered in US Elections Since 2008

April 23rd, 2024 11:09 AM

If Facebook, the company, had a personal Facebook profile, its “relationship status” with free speech would say, “It’s complicated.” The platform, however, has consistently courted election interference efforts.

MRC Free Speech America researchers compiled 39 times Facebook was caught interfering in U.S. elections since 2008. The platform’s record of election-interfering censorship began in 2012, reached a crescendo in 2020 and has begun fading somewhat in the early stages of the 2024 electoral cycle. All the while, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly made pro-free speech comments including during his famous 2019 speech at Georgetown University.

“We can either continue to stand for free expression understanding its messiness but believing that the long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us. Or we can decide that the cost is simply too great,” said Zuckerberg. “I'm here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression.”

He has similarly called politically-motivated censorship “dangerous” and said that Facebook and other social media platforms should not be acting as the “arbiter of truth.” And yet, from 2012 through 2024, Facebook has vacillated between a hands-off approach to free speech online and repeated election interference through policy changes and outright censorship of political candidates and ideas.

Below are some of the highlights of MRC’s findings.

  • In 2012, Facebook suspended a Veteran PAC for a meme drawing attention to the attack on Benghazi. Just over a week before the 2012 presidential election, Facebook suspended the account of Special Operations Speaks, a veteran-led PAC. The group had posted a meme reminding its followers that Navy SEALs were denied backup during the tragic terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The meme showed pictures of then-President Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden along with the words “Obama called on the SEALs and THEY got bin Laden. When the SEALs called on Obama THEY GOT DENIED,” Breitbart News reported. Facebook removed the post, which it claimed “violate[d] Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” according to screenshots Breitbart News included in its reporting. The page administrator proceeded to repost the meme, which was subsequently also removed. After Breitbart News ran the story, then-Facebook Manager Andrew Noyes responded to the accusation denying all fault. “I assure you that removing the image was not an act of censorship on our part. This was an error and we apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused,” he reportedly wrote. 
  • In 2016, Facebook censored then-Democratic Party candidate for president Bernie Sanders and “conservative topics” and news. Facebook used to have a trending section on its website that included trending news manually curated by contractors. Several of the curators who worked for Facebook in 2014 and 2015 told Gizmodo the articles that appeared in Facebook’s Trending News section often depended on the biases of the curator and what Facebook wanted to be trending at the time. “Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” a former curator who asked to remain anonymous said. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.” Stories about then-presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) were also reportedly excluded. Facebook’s anti-spam algorithm also flagged many different Facebook groups, including six groups created for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) supporters, in the Democratic Party primary race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
  • In 2018, Facebook censored multiple candidates for Congress and state legislatures. Facebook removed ads for Sen. (then-Rep.) Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and Michigan state Senate Republican candidate Aric Nesbitt. The platform additionally censored an ad promoting border security paid for by then-President Donald Trump. Similarly, the platform reportedly removed a video promoting an AR-15 giveaway that Senate candidate Austin Petersen (R-MO) was conducting on his own website.
  • In 2020, censorship on Facebook exploded.  The platform censored posts and ads from then-sitting President Donald Trump at least four times and took down seven political ads paid for by the political right. One of these ad campaigns Facebook killed just over a month before the election. The ad reportedly pointed out the incongruence between Democrats’ open borders and COVID-19 lockdown policies. The Washington Post reported at the time, “There were more than 30 versions of the ad running on the social network, according to Facebook’s ad transparency library. It had gathered between 200,000 and 250,000 impressions.” Other candidates impacted by censorship included Rep. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Florida candidate and activist Laura Loomer (R) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).  2020 election interference came to a head, however, when the platform censored the New York Post’s bombshell Hunter Biden report documenting the Biden family’s financial scandals and then ultimately placed an indefinite suspension on then-sitting President Trump’s accounts shortly into 2021.
  • In 2022, Facebook censored multiple gubernatorial candidates and candidates for U.S. Congress. The platform censored Rep. (then candidate) Rich McCormick (R-GA), Virginia GOP congressional candidate Jarome Bell, Tennessee GOP congressional candidate Robby Starbuck, and Missouri GOP U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens. In McCormick’s case, the congressman made an ad criticizing President Joe Biden’s “disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.” Facebook removed the ad for violating its “'Disruptive Content' policy," McCormick wrote in a Facebook post. The platform similarly censored Arizona, Alabama and Texas Republican gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake, Governor Kay Ivey and Chad Prather respectively. In the case of Lake, she said her Instagram account was restricted for 24 hours after “posting photos of Arizona and Arizonans.”
  • In 2024, Facebook and Instagram are limiting users’ access to political content. Meta already began limiting its distribution of political content in 2022 but has continued to lean into that in the lead-up to the 2024 election. In February, Meta announced that Instagram and Threads (a new social media platform owned by Meta) will no longer recommend political content by default, but users can opt in to having such content promoted to them. “If you decide to follow accounts that post political content, we don’t want to get between you and their posts, but we also don’t want to proactively recommend political content from accounts you don’t follow,” Instagram wrote in a blog. “So we’re extending our existing approach to how we treat political content – we won’t proactively recommend content about politics on recommendation surfaces across Instagram and Threads.” Although the move sounds harmless, it makes it more difficult for those who produce political content to grow their page and for more viewers to decide for themselves whether or not they want to follow that content. The platform has also censored GOP presidential candidate Larry Elder, Democrat-turned-Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.



  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) should direct relevant committees and committee chairmen to investigate Facebook for interfering in elections.
  • State legislatures should ensure that Big Tech cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination.
  • State attorneys general and state secretaries of state should take appropriate action to enforce state election laws as it relates to Facebook’s election interference. 
  • In the spirit of openness and transparency, Facebook should establish a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to address the election interference and censorship issues outlined in this report.


You can read the full study here.