Less than 24 hours before Joe Biden is set to become president, Facebook continues to show ads for tactical gear despite vowing to ban those promotions ahead of the inauguration.
A review by CNN and other internet users this week showed that ads for body armor, holsters and other equipment were being displayed on the platform as late as Tuesday afternoon.
Often, the advertised products are pictured alongside guns, ammunition, or people clad in camouflage fatigues.
The ads have frequently appeared in the timelines of military veterans and contribute to a false narrative of an imminent violent conflict in the United States, according to Kristofer Goldsmith, founder and president of High Ground Veterans Advocacy.
“They’re selling the idea of pending violence, or inevitable violence, and that’s the kind of thing that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Goldsmith.
In one example still on Facebook Tuesday afternoon, a pair of noise-reducing earbuds was being advertised as a form of active hearing protection, shown inserted in the ears of a gunman aiming down his rifle sights.
Another ad, for body armor, promises consumers that the product can shield them from bullets, knives, stun guns and other threats.
A third series of ads, for hard-knuckled gloves, showed a man wearing desert camouflage and a tactical rig performing various tests on the gloves, including punching concrete walls, breaking a glass bottle by hand and rubbing broken glass on the gloves’ palms.
“They put people in combat gear in a civilian setting,” Goldsmith said of the ads. “They’re promoting this image of, ‘You need to get ready for combat.’”
Asked for comment, Facebook referred CNN to its earlier blog post announcing that it will ban “ads that promote weapon accessories and protective equipment” in the United States through at least Jan. 22.
“We already prohibit ads for weapons, ammunition and weapon enhancements like silencers,” Facebook said in the blog post. “But we will now also prohibit ads for accessories such as gun safes, vests and gun holsters in the US.”
After Facebook introduced the ban on Saturday, BuzzFeed News reported the following day that some ads for tactical gear were still active. Many of the ads observed by CNN had been active, in some cases, for months. Others had been launched within the past week.
Facebook appears to have removed some of the advertisements CNN found, including a series of ads for armored plates and plate carriers. The plates had, in some cases, been shown being held by heavily muscular individuals dressed in fatigues or being inserted into camouflage-patterned backpacks. Despite having seemingly removed some of the advertisers’ ads, Facebook has allowed other ads for the same products, by the same advertisers, to persist on the platform.
Another now-removed series of body armor ads included marketing copy that claimed specific levels of protection under the rubric established by the National Institute of Justice.
Veterans are a popular target for misinformation and conspiracy theorists, Goldsmith said, because as a group they enjoy political and social authority. An endorsement by a veteran can reinforce a conspiracy theory’s apparent credibility.
“If you change the mind of a veteran, there’s a good chance you change the minds of those within that veteran’s immediate circle — friends, family, coworkers,” said Goldsmith.