The Ads all seemed innocuous at a glance.
A social group in Spanish for Latino men sponsored by a community center in Las Vegas. And a listing of senior-friendly housing choices distributed by a nonprofit in Texas.
But they were blocked by Facebook. The organization’s system, which uses both automated and individual monitors, decided that the ads were”political,” however they didn’t involve advocacy or some other explicitly political views.
The common thread between all of them? LGBT themes.
The Washington Post found heaps of ads mentioning LGBT themes and words that the firm blocked for being political, as reported by a public database Facebook keeps.
Even the rejections, the vast majority of which Facebook told The Post were in mistake, highlight the company’s challenges in regulating the huge amount of information flowing through its own service, a problem that burst into the fore following the revelation that Russian state performers used advertisements on Facebook to sow discord throughout the 2016 election. But they also touch on a deeper strain since the firm seeks to better govern political uses of its stage. Although Facebook has taken pains to appear neutral, the censorship of LGBT ads, however unintentional, points into the company’s difficulty in finding a middle ground in a stressed national climate where policy increasingly hinges on basic questions about identity and race.
Most LGBT advertisers told The Post they were angry by how their ads had been targeted by the business.
This was when the vast majority of the dozen or so webpage administrators interviewed by The Post said that they started to experience difficulties with LGBT-related articles.
Kilmnick stated he was at first confused about why the group’s advertisements – for occasions such as Long Island Pride Parade, a beach concert, a pride-themed night in a New York Mets baseball game, along with a LGBT youth prom it puts – were blocked.
“We were completely targeted simply because we were LGBT,” he explained. “For what we are advertising – ads that encourage our programs that help encourage the community and observe pride – there is nothing political about that.”
Marsha Bonner, a motivational LGBT speaker, also described a similar experience when an ad of hers for an NAACP-sponsored conference about the condition of LGBTQ people of colour was blocked in July, a first in years of advertising on the social networking platform.
Other advertisements The Post found which were blocked for political reasons included a clothing company for survivors of sexual assault that promoted that its clothing”allows guys, girls, gender-neutral”; a promotion for the ride-sharing company Lyft to raise money with the San Diego LGBT Community Center ahead of Pride Week; an LGBTQ night at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in California; along with an LGBT-themed tourist trip to Antarctica.
Facebook declined to describe how the filtering process operates and how much of the filtering was driven by algorithms versus human tracks.
Facebook’s new policies require those trying to promote posts on political issues and candidates to register with the company and mandate that these advertisements include information regarding their funding or their advertisements will be obstructed. If those firms had taken the steps to enroll as political issues with Facebook, a procedure that requires a driver’s license or passport, private home address and the last four digits of a Social Security number, then the ads would have been allowed.
But many folks The Post talked to said they did not know they had the choice to enroll. Others said that they felt enrolling as political would be unethical for their organization’s mission. And most contested the meaning inherent in needing an LGBT group to register political on the grounds of this kind of existential question about identity.
Some of the groups stated they were wary of committing their or other employees’ personal information to enroll with Facebook.
Over all, confusion regarding the social media network’s process made the problem even more unsettling. Facebook’s policies spell out a few of the causes it flags ads on hot-button political problems, but the list – which includes topics like abortion, civil rights, guns, Social Security, the military, terrorism and taxation – states nothing about LGBT culture.
The experience of Thomas Garguilo, a retiree in New York who works a webpage dedicated to the foundation of the Stonewall Inn, a national landmark, reflects the organization’s confusing treatment of LGBT-themed advertisements. Garguilo said that many of his ads have gotten blocked by Facebook he has stopped with the words LGBT or gay in his language on the service.
“It’s ludicrous. And Orwellian,” he explained.
His frustration turned to anger after he wrote that the business about an ad that he wished to run, a post about a panel discussion with an LGBT radio station at Washington D.C., on the history of Stonewall. With no audience which could have come out of paying Facebook to enhance the ad, the post had only been shown to 156 out of the Stonewall Revival webpage’s 3,000 followers.
A Facebook worker in the organization’s Global Marketing Solutions department wrote him back to explain the firm viewed the advertisement as political.
“Thank you for the email today after reviewing the screenshots you’ve provided, it cites LGBT which will fall under the category of civil rights which is a political issue,” that the Facebook worker wrote back, according to copies of the correspondence provided to The Post. “You would need to be authorised to conduct advertisements with this content.”
Another employee confirmed Facebook’s conclusion in a follow-up email, also telling Garguilo the company considered”LGBT articles” to become political.
In an email response to an inquiry from The Post, Facebook said that most the advertisements cited in this story had been completely blocked, but it declined to explain why they had been filtered in the first location. It stated that it was not intentionally blocking LGBT advertising.
“Those that were wrongly labelled have been removed from the record and we apologise for the error,” the firm said in a statement distributed by spokeswoman Devon Kearns. “We do not consider all advertisements that relate to LGBT under this coverage, but rather only those that advocate for various policies or political positions, which a number of these advertisements do.”
Kearns also offered an apology to Garguilo but didn’t explain why the company had delivered him the same response twice. “We apologise for the confusion we caused that person by wrongly telling them their ad had been political,” she said.
There are indications that Facebook’s political filtering has spread to other ads that refer to identity bands. These include an advertisement to get a trash pickup in a lake bed in California that noted:”Perhaps you are Caucasian, African American, Native-America, Latino, Asian, Two-spirit. Perhaps you are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist.” (Facebook told The Post that it filtered the ad because it briefly mentioned a 50-year-old piece of environmental legislation, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.) Other advertisements apparently struck by the blockers comprise a party of Independence Day at Houston, a taco Tuesday at a Mexican restaurant in Florida, a street fair in Chicago with”Mexican and Latin” street food plus a post with details about Holocaust diarist Anne Frank.
Other groups have also complained that they have been unjustly targeted at Facebook’s political advertising restrictions, including nonpartisan veterans groups, and news media firms, many of whom may write about and cover political problems but are not politically connected with any group or cause.
Theresa Lucero, a coordinator at the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that provides services like HIV testing and counseling, said that the team has been having particular trouble getting advertisements approved for things like a gay social group they organise if the ads are in Spanish. When they’ve posted the very same advertisements in English, they’ve gone , Lucero said.
Kelly Freter, the director of communications and marketing in the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said that the firm had noticed between seven and 10 advertisements such as events and awareness campaigns blocked because mid-June.
“We can’t get a definite answer about why things are being blocked or someone to follow us up concerning how we register within a business,” Freter explained. One of the center’s blocked advertisements that was reviewed by The Post was an invitation to observe the life of singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez using a screening of the movie starring Jennifer Lopez.
“The bigger concern from us is that we’re not able to reach people with the community,” Freter said.
Kearns pointed to the organization’s work with the LGBT community, noting that about eight per cent of Facebook workers have identified as LGBTQ in a poll. The company has given users the option to select genders beyond male and female because 2014, and it combined amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court in 2015 to support the legalisation of same-sex union. Facebook also works with advocacy organisations to deal with problems like anti-LGBT bullying.
A number of the bands’ administrators said their experience had given them a sour impression of the business, although most said that there were few choices for getting their message out to broad groups of individuals.
“Why is this community regarded as a political community” Bonner, the motivational speaker, stated in an interview with The Post. “Immigrants are political. LGBT is currently political. African Americans are political. Asian Americans are political. Where does this cease when all we’re attempting to do is live our own lives?”