The Ads all seemed innocuous at a glance.
And a list of senior-friendly housing options distributed by a nonprofit in Texas.
But they were blocked by Facebook. The company’s system, which utilizes both automated and individual monitors, decided that the advertisements were”political,” though they didn’t involve advocacy or any explicitly political perspectives.
The common thread between them all? LGBT themes.
The Washington Post found heaps of advertisements mentioning LGBT topics and words that the firm blocked for being political, as reported by a public database Facebook keeps.
The rejections, the vast majority of which Facebook told The Post were in mistake, highlight the organization’s challenges in regulating the huge quantity of data flowing through its own service, a problem that burst in the fore after the disclosure that Russian state performers utilized advertisements on Facebook to sow discord throughout the 2016 election. However they also touch on a deeper tension since the firm seeks to better govern political uses of its platform. Though Facebook has taken pains to seem neutral, the censorship of LGBT ads, however inadvertent, points to the organization’s problem in finding a middle ground in a stressed national climate where coverage increasingly hinges on basic questions regarding race and identity.
Many LGBT advertisers told The Post that they were angry by the way their ads were targeted by the business.
David Kilmnick, the chief executive of this Long Island, New York-based non-profit the LGBT Network, said his firm has observed about 15 ads blocked as political since the spring or early summer, around the time that Facebook officially changed its policy. This was when the majority of the dozen or so page administrators interviewed by The Post stated they started to experience issues with LGBT-related articles.
Kilmnick said he was initially perplexed about why the group’s advertisements – for occasions like Long Island Pride Parade, a beach theater, a pride-themed night at a New York Mets baseball game, along with a LGBT youth prom it puts on – were blocked. But as the rejections started to pile up, so did Kilmnick’s suspicions.
“We were completely targeted only because we had been LGBT,” he said. “For what we’re advertising – ads that promote our programs that help support the community and observe pride – there’s nothing political about that.”
Marsha Bonner, a motivational LGBT speaker, described a similar experience when an ad of hers for an NAACP-sponsored conference about the State of LGBTQ people of color was blocked in July, a first in years of advertising on the social networking platform.
Other ads The Post found that were blocked for political reasons contained a clothing firm for survivors of sexual assault that promoted that its garments”empowers men, women, gender-neutral”; a promotion for the ride-sharing firm Lyft to raise money with the San Diego LGBT Community Center in advance of Pride Week; an LGBTQ night at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in California; and an LGBT-themed tourist expedition to Antarctica.
Facebook declined to describe how the filtering procedure works and how much of this filtering was pushed by algorithms versus individual monitors.
Facebook’s new policies require those trying to promote posts on political topics and applicants to register with the company and mandate that these advertisements include information regarding their funding or their advertising will be blocked.
But many people The Post talked to said they didn’t understand they had the option to enroll. Others stated that they felt registering as political could be unethical for their organization’s mission. And most questioned the meaning inherent in requiring an LGBT group to register as political on the grounds of such an existential question about individuality.
Some of the groups stated that they were wary of committing their employees’ personal information to register with Facebook.
Above all, confusion regarding the social networking network’s process made the issue even more unsettling. Facebook’s policies spell out some of the causes it flags ads on hot-button political problems, but the record – which includes subjects like abortion, civil rights, firearms, Social Security, the military, terrorism and taxation – states nothing about LGBT culture.
The adventure of Thomas Garguilo, a retiree in New York who operates a webpage devoted to the history of the Stonewall Inn, a national landmark, reflects the company’s perplexing treatment of LGBT-themed ads. Garguilo said that so many of his advertisements have gotten blocked by Facebook he has stopped with the words LGBT or homosexual in his speech about the service.
His frustration turned to anger after he wrote the company 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 foundation of Stonewall. With no audience that could have come from paying Facebook to enhance the advertisement, the article had only been demonstrated to 156 out of the Stonewall Revival webpage’s 3,000 followers.
A Facebook employee in the company’s Global Marketing Solutions division wrote him back to explain the firm viewed the advertisement as political.
“Thank you for the email now after reviewing the screenshots you’ve provided, it mentions LGBT which will fall under the category of civil rights which is a political issue,” that the Facebook employee wrote back, based on copies of the correspondence provided to The Post. “You would need to be authorised to conduct advertisements with this content”
Another employee affirmed Facebook’s conclusion in a follow-up email, also telling Garguilo the company considered”LGBT content” 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 wrongfully blocked, but it declined to explain why they had been filtered in the first place. It stated that it wasn’t intentionally blocking LGBT advertising.
“The ones which were wrongly labelled have been removed from the archive and we apologise for the mistake,” the firm said in a statement distributed by spokeswoman Devon Kearns. “We do not think about all ads that relate to LGBT below this coverage, but rather just the ones that advocate for various policies or political positions, which several of those advertisements do.”
Kearns also offered an apology to Garguilo but did not explain why the firm had sent him the exact same response twice. “We apologise for the confusion we caused this person by incorrectly telling them their ad was political,” she explained.
There are indications that Facebook’s political filtering has spread to other ads that refer to identity bands. These include an advertisement for a trash pickup in a lake bed in California that noticed:”Perhaps you’re Caucasian, African American, Native-America, Latino, Asian, Two-spirit. Maybe you’re Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist.” (Facebook told The Post that it filtered the ad since it briefly mentioned a 50-year-old piece of environmental laws, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.) Other ads apparently struck by the filters include a celebration of Nigerian 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’ve been unjustly targeted at Facebook’s political advertising restrictions, including nonpartisan veterans groups, and news media firms, a lot of whom may write about and cover political issues but aren’t politically affiliated with any group or cause.
Theresa Lucero, a coordinator at the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that offers services like HIV testing and counselling, stated that the group has been having particular trouble getting advertisements approved for things such as a gay social group they organise if the advertisements are in Spanish. When they’ve posted the same ads in English, they have gone through, Lucero said.
Kelly Freter, the director of marketing and communications at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said the firm had seen between seven and 10 advertisements for events and awareness campaigns obstructed since mid-June.
“We can not get a clear answer about why things are being obstructed or somebody to follow us up about how we register as a business,” Freter explained. Among the centre’s blocked advertisements that has been reviewed by The Article was an invitation to observe the life of singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez with a screening of this movie starring Jennifer Lopez.
“The bigger concern from us is that we are unable to reach people with the community,” Freter said.
The company has given users the choice to pick genders beyond male and female because 2014, and it combined amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court from 2015 to support the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Facebook also functions with advocacy organisations to address issues like anti-LGBT bullying.
“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 now political. African Americans are political. Asian Americans are political. Where does this stop when all we’re attempting to do is live our lives?”