Hutch Marketing work with many businesses big and small with the knowledge that behind those flashy logos are real people with a voice to be heard. When we take on a client we do our best to help them to tell their story. That is the pledge we make.
In the recent months, we’ve been working with a friendly & unique local business called Proud Geek, an LGBT+ online comic, book & DVD store. Their products vary from romantic novels to inspiring autobiographies. Their hope is to educate, motivate and thrill audiences both at home and abroad and spread LGBT+ and queer culture to the masses.
During the course of our Facebook marketing campaign, the road blocks encountered were not the usual issues we occasionally run into. We found ourselves subjected to quite harmful censorship against this LGBT+ business on Facebook. Our ad accounts connected to Proud Geek were eventually restricted and we were given no explanation as to why.
There was no adult language or imagery in our posts beyond the fact it advertised LGBT+ content.
In mid 2020, Facebook faced a boycott fighting back against their inaction toward hate speech that was advertised and promoted on the platform. Hundreds of companies such as Starbucks, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and Microsoft pulled ads and funding to the site. The “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign was formulated to stamp out violent, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic content across the platform.
Many of us have stood by and watched while Facebook moderators respond to complaints by commenting that certain inflammatory, prejudice or discriminatory comments/posts don’t breech community standards. In the same breath these Facebook deems LGBT+ content worth of deletion & censorship.
We noticed this first hand when launched our targeted ad campaigns for Proud Geek. On their Facebook Shopping section, we noticed many restricted products including the following:
When looking at the overview of rejected products – we discovered many contain the word “queer”, while others have visuals of same-sex couples kissing. Clicking on what issues flagged the restriction of these products – we found they all had the same warning.
Reading through the advertising policies, we discovered no underlying violations to support or explain the rejection. Paying close attention to the advertising policy on sexually suggestive content, we found no sign of these products breaching any terms.
Is It Likely That All Romance Novels On Facebook Are Treated The Same?
We did some digging into other retailers selling romance novels, for a fair comparison. We decided to focus on heterosexual novels. Our surprise was finding numerous products breaking Facebook’s sexually suggestive content policy particularly around nudity and excessive skin.
This highlights the biased approach in which Facebook takes when it determines what products break advertising policies. It also shows the fact that a Facebook algorithm would sooner flag the word “queer” or images of same sex couples, whereas a scantily clad woman in a sexually suggestive pose is not restricted.
Why Did Facebook Restrict Us From Advertising With Proud Geek?
The short answer is, we have no idea. When setting up ads for a client, we want to get their voice heard by people who are interested in hearing it. It’s always disappointing when there’s blockades to delivering results. It’s even more shocking when we’re banned from advertising on behalf of a client altogether for seemingly discriminatory reasons.
After requesting a review of the numerous products, we found ourselves restricted from running ads for Proud Geek on Facebook. There has been no reason given and our appeal for a review has yet to receive a response.
Anyone who’s had an issue with running ads on Facebook, will know it’s a nightmare to get a straight answer on anything. The review process provides little information and usually directs to an FAQ.
We have pleaded our case on behalf of Proud Geek and hope that either an explanation will be given or the ad accounts are re-activated.
Is Facebook Rejecting The Wrong Content?
Social media algorithms determine what content gets automatically flagged to then be reviewed and subsequently rejected. These algorithms are in place to protect users from false or harmful information. But are these really working in the right way?
“Algorithmic bias” is something that has suppressed minorities with many voicing their concern over their experience with censorship. With the example of Nyome Nicholas-Williams, a black plus-sized model, who had her content removed from Instagram for “violating guidelines”.
Under Instagram’s community guidelines, nudity and sexual activity is restricted but is monitored on a case by case basis. But, what are the deciding factors in these cases? What steps are companies like Facebook taking to ensure non-biased reviewing?
Another example of deliberate bias is when Facebook moderators allowed violent homophobic content after the death of an Egyptian LGBT+ activist, Sarah Hegazi. Violent and offensive comments and posts remained on Facebook after Arabic moderators determined they didn’t violate Facebook’s “community standards”.
What Are The Next Steps?
We’ve decided to speak up for our client, Proud Geek, and speak out about our experience. Often with digital marketing systems, we need to “play by certain rules” and “satisfy the platform’s criteria”. We understand the checks in place but we believe “blanket rules” and unconscious bias in the review process are having a negative effect on minorities.
We want to encourage others to speak out and create awareness around this issue. If you’ve experienced first hand bias within social media policies please do speak to us about it.