Facebook Profits From ‘Kung Flu’ Ads, Report Shows

Facebook is earning money from ads placed by companies that use “kung flu,” according to a report from Media Matters, a progressive research and information center dedicated to “comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

Image Screenshot via Facebook Ad Library

The ads in question: The social networking giant appears to have run such ads as early as March, days after a White House official used the phrase in the presence of an Asian American reporter.

  • In March, clothing company American AF started selling a T-shirt that hailed President Donald Trump as “The Kung Flu Kid,” featuring Vice President Mike Pence in the background. Its Facebook ad came with a manipulated video of the president fighting the coronavirus, which supposedly represented China.
  • Facebook’s ad library shows that the platform accepted another promotion for the same product in April. Both ads also ran on Instagram, according to Media Matters.
  • Earlier this month, Facebook ran an ad from a “fan page” for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. The ad, which showcased American AF’s “The Kung Flu Kid” shirt, was eventually taken down because it “ran without a disclaimer.”
  • “After the ad started running, we determined that the ad was about social issues, elections or politics and required the label. The ad was taken down,” Facebook stated.
  • Days later, Facebook ran an ad for clothing company Capitol Tee. This time, the advertised T-shirt came with a caption that asked, “Tired of the Wuhan Kung Flu?”
  • Facebook is currently running an ad for the same product, which now tells customers: “The Mainstream Media are a bunch of snowflakes. Buy this shirt and make their heads explode.”
Image Screenshot via Facebook Ad Library

Why these findings matter: “Kung Flu,” as well as other phrases some members of the Republican Party have been using — “China virus,” Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” — are believed to perpetuate racism against Chinese people, and by apparent extension, the collective population of Asian Americans.

  • In recent months, Asian Americans have faced an overwhelming increase in physical and verbal abuse from individuals who blame them for spreading COVID-19 in the U.S.
  • Nearly 1,900 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the country were reported as of May 13, according to the latest tally of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, which collects them through the Stop AAPI Hate initiative.
  • Trump, who was first blasted for using the term “Chinese virus,” has so far used “Kung Flu” twice: first, in his re-election campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, and second, at the Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona on Tuesday.
  • On Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump’s use of the phrase, arguing that he was simply “linking [the virus] to its place of origin” and that it is only “a fair thing to point out.”
  • Not everyone on Trump’s side seems enthusiastic about the phrase, as his own advisor Kellyanne Conway previously slammed it as “wrong” and “highly offensive.”
  • However, Conway did not repeat the same characterization on Wednesday. “My reaction is that the president has made very clear he wants everybody to understand, and I think many Americans do understand, that the virus originated in China,” she told reporters. “And had China been more transparent and honest with the United States and the world, we wouldn’t have all the death and destruction that unfortunately we’ve suffered.”

Facebook’s advertising policy states that ads “must not discriminate or encourage discrimination against people based on personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, disability, medical or genetic condition.”

The World Health Organization has long discouraged the use of “Chinese virus” and related terms, saying that COVID-19 was “deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization.”

Feature Image Screenshots via Facebook Ad Library (left and right)

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