June 28, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Facebook says its latest rules for advertising what it calls “political” content will promote transparency, but after a month of operation they are effectively handicapping many publishers, including LifeSiteNews.
Last month, the social media giant began requiring publishers to submit identification and mailing addresses in order to run advertisements (promotions to lists) of a “political” nature in the United States. Among the initial list of subjects deemed by Facebook to be “political” and, which will expand over time, are “abortion,” “civil rights,” “health,” and “values.” Facebook says the change is meant to prevent foreign actors from interfering in American elections.
These verification requirements are however causing very lengthy delays for ad approvals and are far more extensive than what is summarized in the announcements. They have also caused many to complain about Facebook's labelling of reporting on non-political issues as “political” and therefore subject to Facebook's onerous new procedures and restrictions.
Rather than simply verifying a representative’s identity and a US-based headquarters or office, Facebook has requested a government-issued identification, personal address, and the last four Social Security Number digits for every member of an ad management team.
The company claims that all of this information is being handled by a third party and will be deleted after six weeks, though it has not provided LifeSiteNews with a means of verifying these assurances.
The new rules also place a special new “paid for” label at the top of “political” promotions, through which users can identify who is responsible for the ad, as well as the campaign budget behind it, the number of people who viewed it, and the age, location, and gender of its audience. Additionally, users will be able to report unlabeled ads they believe should be marked, after which the publisher (pending Facebook’s review of the complaint) will be banned from posting ads until it completes the verification process.
Most ads will be flagged through a combination of employee review and artificial intelligence. All “political” ads on Facebook or Instagram dated May 7, 2018 or later will be stored in a searchable archive for up to seven years.
Facebook product management director Rob Leathern claimed that the company “recognize[s] that news coverage of elections and important issues is distinct from advocacy or electoral ads, even if those news stories receive paid distribution on Facebook.” Despite such reassurances, however, the new system is already having consequences beyond its stated targets.
Facebook has already come under fire for blocking ads by LifeSiteNews and other pro-lifers, as well as other forms of discrimination against pro-life, Christian, and conservative voices. In recent months Facebook has delayed the average wait time to approve LifeSiteNews ads from 12 hours to 72, and doubled the cost per donation received from ads deemed “political” from an average of $5.95 to $12 per donation click. Even as little as a year ago, approval for ads (promotions of particular articles) usually took minutes to an hour or two. “Now,” says LifeSite President Steve Jalsevac, “Facebook has made everything ‘political’ whereas we are an entirely issues-focused news service rather than a political one.”
More significantly, starting the week of Ireland’s May 25 abortion referendum, Facebook has rejected most of LifeSiteNews’ ads entirely.
“Is Facebook really being ‘neutral’ by now prohibiting ads and articles of a type that we were able to post for years, enabling us to reach all the people who choose to receive our articles by following our Facebook pages?” Jalsevac asked. “Would any of them be offended by the ads and other articles? No. But I bet they are offended that Facebook is choosing what they can or can't read.”
“I believe what is causing the Ad Disapproval is the actual photo itself for the Ads you were wanting to run,” a Facebook representative told LifeSiteNews. “While you have access to be able to run political Ads, the Policy team did indicate that the images were not able to be used. Since that is still a hot topic for some users, it may be offensive for Facebook to show on their end, or allow to be shown.”
The photos in question do not depict political figures, imagery, or events; nor do they contain violent abortion imagery. They are photos of ultrasounds, pregnant mothers’ bellies, images of preborn babies, and even a simple photo of a mother holding an infant’s feet.
That was enough to cross the line, in Facebook’s eyes. “I do see that the Ad has a fetus and while it involves your Ad text and topic, it may be viewed too strong for Facebook to allow to show,” the representative said.
When pushed for additional information, Facebook suggested that LifeSiteNews “consider using different images.” If our ads continue to be rejected, it “may be that the topic of choice for your Ads is what is being disapproved.”
“I definitely understand what you are referring to, but more than likely the topic you are speaking of may offend some, or Facebook finds they would rather not allow that type of Advertising at this time,” Facebook’s reply read. “Perhaps Facebook would rather remain neutral as they would not want to offend either side. While you do have authorization to run Ads, perhaps this topic might be the cause of those disapproval.”
Planned Parenthood gets to runs expressly-partisan political ads on Facebook
Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, has run a variety of political ads this month with expressly-partisan imagery, including graphics accusing politicians by name of “blocking access to health care.” The abortion giant has also run ads featuring pictures of condoms on bananas and declaring that “Sex is hot – bad sex ed is not,” a potential violation of Facebook’s rules stating that any promotion of condoms must be focused on their contraceptive function and cannot be targeted at audiences younger than age 18, and cannot focus on “sexual pleasure.”
Since these new regulations have been in place, one ad that finally received approval was a LifeSiteNews May 24 story highlighting a reader’s pregnancy announcement video. It required multiple appeals, as Facebook’s algorithm flagged it as a “political story,” we suspect because it mentions the husband’s military service.
In the last two days however, LifeSite has finally been receiving more consistent approvals for ads Facebook has deemed to be “political.” “But there is no guarantee that this will last,” says Jalsevac, given the many dramatic ups and downs with Facebook that LifeSite and many others have been experiencing.
“The rules and decisions seem to be constantly changing,” says Jalsevac. He adds that they have generally experienced a steep downward push against their efforts to promote articles and campaigns to the almost 1 million people who have chosen to follow LifeSite-maintained Facebook pages.
Facebook personnel have been polite and professional in their interactions, but have offered LifeSiteNews no alternative means of resolving the issue than filing individual appeals.
Other publishers have reported experiencing similar problems. The Verge reported on June 1 that it identified 85 news stories flagged in just the first week of the new system, with topics ranging from North Korea and the Supreme Court to “seemingly innocuous stories on graduation speeches or the British royal family.”
Several giants of the mainstream media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal, have come out against the new rules. Those four papers are among the outlets supporting a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the company of “dangerously blur[ring] the lines between real reporting and propaganda.”
“While we applaud Facebook’s efforts to introduce more transparency around the political ads that appear on its platform, we strenuously disagree with the notion that journalism on political issues should be equated with political ads,” USA Today publisher Maribel Wadsworth added in a statement last month.