Facebook Backs Down After Censoring Conservative Ad

February 13th, 2009 12:58 AM

In yet another example of flag spamming and poor corporate over sight Facebook decided this week to remove an ad from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The group was advertising a petition on their site nostimulus.com which lets people voice their opposition to the near $800 billion stimulus going through congress right now.

After originally screening and approving the ad CNS News, a sister site of NewsBusters and the Media Research Center, reports that Facebook claimed to have received some complaints from users. They then proceeded to put a disapproval notice on it and then yank it from the site all together and notified Americans for Prosperity of their reasoning:

Once the NoStimulus.com Web site started getting a large volume of visitors, Kerpen told CNSNews.com, “they put a disapproval notice on it and they pulled the ad."
Kerpen said Facebook told Americans for Prosperity that the ad violated two of its advertising rules – Rules 8 and 9.
Rule 8 says that ads may not “contain, facilitate or promote “adult” content or content that is “offensive, profane, vulgar, obscene or inappropriate” or “defamatory, libelous, slanderous and/or unlawful.”
Rule 9 prohibits a variety of content, including:
--“Inflammatory religious content”;
-- “Politically religious agendas and/or any known associations with hate, criminal and/or terrorist activities”;
-- “Political content that exploits political agendas or uses ‘hot button’ political issues for commercial use regardless of whether the advertiser has a political agenda”;
--“Hate speech, whether directed at an individual or a group, and whether based upon the race, sex, creed, national origin, religious affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation or language of such individual or group”;
-- and “Content that advocates against any organization, person, or group of people, with the exception of candidates running for public office.”

However, Facebook told CNS News an entirely different story about their reasoning:

“At Facebook, we strive to create a trusted environment for our users and advertisers,” Facebook spokeswoman Erin Zietler said in an e-mail. “We encourage users to report any advertisements they find offensive or misleading, and we offer the ability for them to provide immediate feedback on our ads. We have a team dedicated to investigating ads and user complaints.
“In this case, users informed us about misleading offers in many ads with promotions related to the U.S. economic stimulus package,” the spokeswoman said. “We are in the process of removing ads with these types of misleading offers as they are brought to our attention.”

This inconsistency between what Facebook told Americans for Prosperity and what they told CNS News combined with their admission that users were the ones driving the censoring of the ad paints a clear picture of a case of flag spamming that went unchecked (For additional background on liberal flag spamming check out Matthew Sheffield's earlier NewsBusters post on the subject). In other words, liberal Facebook members abused a Facebook function which allows people to report or "flag" ads they feel are offensive or misleading. After several liberal Facebook users flagged this legitimate ad as offensive, a Facebook moderator most likely reviewed the ad and decided whether or not it was legitimate. That's where the poor corporate over sight kicked in in this case and Facebook decided to remove the ad.

Luckily Americans for Prosperity didn't take the censorship sitting down and CNS News didn't ignore the story. In a move that Phil Kerpen, the national policy director at Americans for Prosperity, credited to pressure resulting from the CNS News report Facebook decided to back down from its original decision to censor the conservative group's ad. Here's how Facebook justified their actions and why they decided to reverse their earlier position:

Facebook has done an about face. The Internet social networking site told CNSNews.com that it made a mistake when it took down an ad for “NoStimulus.com” -- a Web site sponsored by a conservative nonprofit group that is running a petition campaign in opposition to the stimulus bill under consideration in Congress.
"As part of our efforts to remove other ads with misleading offers related to the stimulus package, we erroneously removed the ad in question,” Facebook corporate spokesman Matt Hicks told CNSNews.com in an e-mail. “We have since restored that ad. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."
Of course the reasons Facebook gives for their reversal only go to further the idea that this is indeed a case of liberal flag spamming combined with poor moderation and oversight. Facebook failed to properly moderate their ad complaints and then committed an egregious act of censorship. Hopefully Americans for Prosperity's willingness to stand up against this attack on conservative speech and CNS News' diligent reporting of it will make Facebook reconsider the way they moderate their ads. While we should applaud Facebook for quickly reversing this terrible decision, it is none the less completely unacceptable that they censored this in the first place.