A Toronto theatre company was left frustrated and completely bewildered after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, initially rejected the theatre company’s ads for being too “political.”
Daresay Productions’ upcoming play “Deputy Prime Minister Collimore” is a fictional story of a second-in-command politician who becomes disillusioned after his country’s leader begins embracing an increasingly anti-democratic agenda.
The play’s producer says Facebook rejected Daresay’s advertisements several times, despite attempts from the organizers to edit and resubmit the ads.
“Simply put, they refused to run our campaign solely because our play involves politics, which sets a very unsettling precedent,” said Jennie Brodski, the play’s author and producer, in an email to the Star. Brodski is also a lawyer in Toronto.
A spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company responded with an update after this story was published. Meta did not respond to the Star’s initial request for comment prior to publishing.
“We reviewed the ad and determined it was disapproved in error. We apologize for the inconvenience and have restored the ad,” a Meta spokesperson wrote in an email to the Star on Wednesday night.
She says the response from Facebook is about optics and publicity.
“They ran one of the ads we didn’t really want to use — one of the ones we’d changed and changed according to their instructions. They turned those on without asking us. Secondly, this wasn’t an ‘error.’ They’re backtracking and saying it was an error because there’s an article about it in the media,” Brodski told the Star on Thursday.
“There’s not enough time. It takes Facebook time to target the ad properly,” Brodski said, frustrated. “My show starts next week and runs for six shows, so I don’t even know if it would help me.”
Facebook initially rejected ads for being too “political”
Brodski says she was instructed by a Facebook representative to edit the photo when she was first rejected, which she did, removing the word “political,” but she says Facebook continued to reject the ad, even after she resubmitted it several times. Brodski says Facebook refused to tell her why they kept rejecting the ad.
“This decision is final,” wrote a Facebook representative in a final email to Brodski which she shared with the Star.
“Please note we are not allowed to share the exact policy violation with you,” the email from Facebook continued. “This information could be used by bad actors, to circumvent the review system and our efforts to foster a positive and (safe) environment on Facebook.”
Brodski engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Facebook representatives over this issue. She alleges the initial rejection places the financial future of “Deputy Prime Minister Collimore” at risk.
“There’s nothing in their policy that explicitly forbids plays or artistic works about fictional politicians,” Brodski said in an interview with the Star.
“Your ad may have been rejected because it mentions politicians or is about sensitive social issues that could influence public opinion, how people vote and may impact the outcome of an election or pending legislation,” wrote a Facebook support representative in a series of exchanges with Brodski, which she shared with the Star.
Facebook says its ad review system relies primarily on automated tools to check ads for violations of its advertising policies.
According to its website, Facebook’s automated system reviews “specific components of an ad, such as images, video, text, and targeting information, as well as an ad’s associated landing page or other destinations, among other information.”
“They’re dominant in the area of targeted advertising,” Brodski said. “There isn’t another place for a small play like this to advertise.”
Brodski had budgeted to spend up to approximately $1,000 on ads across Facebook and Instagram if they’d been approved by Meta, the apps’ parent company.
She said the now-overturned ban on “Deputy Prime Minister Collimore” ads was particularly chilling given the social media giant’s track record surrounding misinformation.
Greater authenticity requirements, transparency, and accountability for ads about politics, social issues or elections on Facebook means people have more information about who is trying to influence their vote, according to Facebook’s own policy surrounding ads, and helps protect elections and prevent foreign interference.
“In the wake of Facebook’s past behavior, it’s perplexing to see Facebook ban a fully-verified stage play that met every one of its listed requirements,” she explained in an email.
“Specifically, a play that advocates the simple non-partisan message that ‘requesting transparency from those in power is a good idea,’” Brodski said.
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