Aside from the Trump campaign itself, the biggest spender on pro-Trump Facebook ads is reportedly a secretive New York-based newspaper
- President Donald Trump's re-election campaign seems to be getting unlikely help from The Epoch Times, a publication tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese religious group.
- The Epoch Times is the second highest-spender on pro-Trump Facebook ads, just after the Trump campaign itself.
- According to publicly-available Facebook ad data discovered by NBC News, The Epoch Times has spent over $1.5 million across the last six months on pro-Trump Facebook ads.
- Epoch Times editor-in-chief Jasper Fakkert denied the report in an email exchange Tuesday afternoon. "NBC News' statement is incorrect," Fakkert told Business Insider.
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The second-largest source of pro-Donald Trump Facebook ads is The Epoch Times, a non-profit publication that's tied to a Chinese religious sect named Falun Gong, NBC News reported on Tuesday. NBC News spoke with former employees of the Epoch Times, who say that Falun Gong "heavily informs" the publication's coverage.
The publication has reportedly spent over $1.5 million on pro-Trump Facebook advertising across the last six months. Those ads are described by NBC as featuring "unidentified spokespeople" who "thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the 'Deep State,' and criticize 'fake news' media."The ads are part of an Epoch Times Facebook page called "Coverage of the Trump presidency by The Epoch Times."
In the ads, a man thumbs through copies of The Epoch Times and highlights stories that readers might be interested in - a piece discussing former President Bill Clinton's connections to Jeffrey Epstein, and a piece condemning former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign, among others.
Facebook categorizes the ads as "about social issues, elections or politics" - a categorization that the social media company says it makes public "to increase ad transparency and as part of our election integrity on Facebook and Instagram."
For its part, The Epoch Times denies that these ads are indended to be political.
"NBC News' statement is incorrect," Epoch Times Editor-in-Chief Jasper Fakker said in an email exchange with Business Insider. "The Epoch Times advertisements are subscription advertisements for the print version of The Epoch Times. In the advertisements we discuss The Epoch Times editorial and feature content and encourage people to subscribe to us. Facebook has specific rules for advertising that require anyone - including a publisher like ourselves - to label content if it touches on social issues or politics, something some news content naturally does. The Epoch Times is a nonpartisan media that is dedicated to truthful and accurate reporting."You can read Facebook's policies on labeling political and social content here.
But the NBC News report tells another story of the publication's origins, and its business ties to a Chinese religious group named Falun Gong.
According to the report, The Epoch Times has turned toward pro-Trump advertising and favorable news coverage due to its ties to Falun Gong - the religious group seeks to undermine the Chinese government, and it reportedly sees President Trump as a force for that goal.
Fakkert did not respond to a request for comment on the connection between Falun Gong and The Epoch Times. However, later in the day, the Epoch Times published a rebuttal to the NBC News story, entitled "NBC News Repeats Chinese Communist Party Propaganda in Hit Piece on The Epoch Times," saying that it's always been open about the fact that its founders were Falun Gong practioners.