A social group in Spanish for Latino men sponsored by a community center in Las Vegas. And a list of senior-friendly housing options spread by a nonprofit in Texas.
Nevertheless, they were all blocked by Facebook. The organization’s system, which utilizes both automated and individual screens, decided that the advertisements were”political,” however they didn’t involve advocacy or any explicitly political views.
The frequent thread between all of them? LGBT themes.
The Washington Post found heaps of advertisements mentioning LGBT topics and words the firm blocked for being political, as reported by a public database Facebook keeps.
The rejections, the majority of that Facebook told The Post were in mistake, highlight the organization’s challenges in regulating the massive amount of information flowing through its service, an issue that burst into the fore after the disclosure that Russian state actors utilized advertisements on Facebook to sow discord during the 2016 election. However they also touch on a deeper tension since the company seeks to better regulate political applications of its platform. Although Facebook has taken pains to seem impartial, the censorship of LGBT ads, however inadvertent, points into the company’s difficulty in finding a middle ground in a tense national climate where coverage increasingly hinges on fundamental questions regarding identity and race.
Most LGBT advertisers told The Post that they were upset by the way their advertisements were targeted by the company.
David Kilmnick, the chief executive of the Long Island, New York-based non-profit the LGBT Network, said that his firm has observed about 15 advertisements blocked as political as the spring or early summer, around the time that Facebook officially changed its coverage. This was when the vast majority of the dozen or so page administrators interviewed by The Post said that they began to encounter issues with LGBT-related content.
Kilmnick said he was at first confused about why the band’s commercials – for events such as 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.
“We’re totally targeted only because we were LGBT,” he said. “For what we are 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, also described a similar experience once an advertisement of hers for an NAACP-sponsored conference about the condition of LGBTQ individuals of colour was blocked in July, a first in years of advertising on the social networking platform.
Other advertisements The Post found that have been blocked for political reasons contained a clothing company for survivors of sexual assault that advertised that its clothing”allows guys, women, gender-neutral”; a marketing 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; and an LGBT-themed tourist trip to Antarctica.
Facebook declined to explain how the filtering process operates and how much of this filtering has been pushed by algorithms versus individual tracks.
Facebook’s new policies need those seeking to promote posts on political issues and applicants to register with the company and mandate that these advertisements include information about their funding or their advertising will be blocked.
But a lot of people The Post talked to said that they did not know they had the choice to register. Others stated that they felt enrolling as political could be dishonest to their organization’s mission. And most questioned the significance inherent in needing an LGBT group to register political on the grounds of such an existential question about individuality.
A few of the groups stated they were wary of giving over their or other employees’ private information to register with Facebook.
Above all, confusion regarding the social media system’s procedure made the issue even more unsettling. Facebook’s policies spell out some of the reasons it flags ads on hot-button political issues, but the record – which includes subjects like abortion, civil rights, guns, Social Security, the military, terrorism and taxes – states nothing about LGBT culture.
The adventure of Thomas Garguilo, a retiree at 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 explained that so many of his advertisements have gotten obstructed by Facebook he has ceased using the words LGBT or homosexual in his speech about the service.
“It’s ludicrous. And Orwellian,” he said.
His frustration turned to anger after he wrote the business about an ad he wished to conduct, a post about a panel discussion with an LGBT radio station in Washington D.C., on the history of Stonewall. With no audience that would have come from paying Facebook to enhance the ad, the article had only been demonstrated to 156 from the Stonewall Revival page’s 3,000 followers.
A Facebook worker in the organization’s Global Marketing Solutions department wrote back him to explain why the company viewed the advertisement as political.
“Thank you for the email today after reviewing the screenshots you have supplied, it cites LGBT which will fall under the category of civil rights that’s a political issue,” that the Facebook worker wrote back, based on copies of the correspondence provided to The Post. “You would have to be authorised to conduct ads with this content”
Another employee confirmed Facebook’s conclusion in a follow-up email, additionally telling Garguilo that the firm considered”LGBT content” to be political.
In an email response to an inquiry from The Post, Facebook explained that the majority of the advertisements cited in this story was completely blocked, but it declined to explain why they had been filtered in the first location. It said that it wasn’t intentionally blocking LGBT advertising.
“The ones that were incorrectly labelled have been removed from the archive and we apologise for the error,” the firm said in an announcement distributed by spokeswoman Devon Kearns. “We do not think about all ads that relate to LGBT below this policy, but instead just the ones that advocate for a variety of political or policies positions, which a number of those ads do.”
Kearns also offered an apology to Garguilo but didn’t explain why the company had delivered him the exact same response twice. “We apologise for the confusion we caused this person by wrongly telling them their ad was political,” she said.
There are signs that Facebook’s political filtering has spread into other ads that refer to identity groups. These include an ad for a garbage pickup at a lake bed in California that noticed:”Maybe you are Caucasian, African American, Native-America, Latino, Asian, Two-spirit. Maybe you’re Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist.” Other ads apparently struck by the blockers include a celebration of Nigerian Independence Day in Houston, a taco Tuesday at a Mexican restaurant in Florida, a street fair in Chicago with”Mexican and Latin” street food and a post with facts about Holocaust diarist Anne Frank.
Other groups have also complained that they’ve been unjustly targeted at Facebook’s political marketing restrictions, including nonpartisan veterans groups, and information media companies, many of whom may write about and cover political problems but aren’t 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 offers services like HIV testing and counselling, said that the group was having particular trouble getting advertisements approved for things like a gay social group they snore when the advertisements are in Spanish. When they’ve posted the same ads 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 since mid-June.
“We can’t get a definite answer about why things have been obstructed or someone to follow us up about how we enroll as a business,” Freter said. One of the center’s blocked ads that has been reviewed by The Article was an invitation to celebrate the life of singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez using a screening of the film starring Jennifer Lopez.
“The bigger concern from us is that we’re not able to reach men and women in the community,” Freter said.
Kearns pointed to the organization’s work with the LGBT community, noting that about eight percent of Facebook employees have identified as LGBTQ in a survey. The company has provided users the choice to pick genders beyond male and female since 2014, and it combined amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court from 2015 to support the legalisation of same-sex union. Facebook also works with advocacy organisations to address issues like anti-LGBT bullying.
“Why is this community considered a political community” Bonner, the motivational speaker, said in an interview with The Post. “Immigrants are political. LGBT is currently political. African Americans are governmental. Native Americans are political. Where does this cease when all we’re attempting to do is live our own lives?”