- An LGBTQ health centre said it tried to run ads on Facebook promoting HIV prevention but that Facebook initially blocked the ads because it determined they were about “social issues, elections, or politics.”
- Apicha Community Health Centre was told by Facebook that it wouldn’t be allowed to run the ads until it cleared a rigorous authorization process because Facebook has a high bar for ads related to politics.
- The ads were later reinstated by Facebook, but Apicha CHC said it was not clear why Facebook determined that the ads were political.
- The conflict highlights Facebook’s inconsistent enforcement of ad rules, as well as a broader problem: It’s not clear how the company defines “political.”
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As an LGBTQ-focused clinic, Apicha Community Health Centre does everything it can to spread the word about HIV prevention, including buying ad space on social media.
But Apicha CHC said two of its primary social-media outlets, Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns), have repeatedly rejected the clinic’s ads promoting HIV treatment, saying the ads don’t meet the platforms’ policies on ads about “social issues, elections, and politics.”
Facebook’s rejection of the HIV prevention ads, first reported by Vice and Out, highlights a central problem with the social network’s policies on political ads: It’s not always clear how Facebook defines “politics,” and Apicha CHC organisers said they still weren’t sure why their ads were in violation of Facebook’s policies while similar ads run by the group were not.
Facebook ultimately reinstated the clinic’s ads this week, Phillip Miner, Apicha CHC’s communications director, told Business Insider, but only after the clinic jumped through hoops meant to authorise organisations posting ads about “social issues, elections, and politics.”
A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that Apicha’s ads were initially rejected because it had not completed the authorization process, adding that the authorization is meant to prevent foreign interference in elections.
Facebook has overhauled its ad policies in the wake of the 2016 election, when millions of dollars were spent on ads that targeted users based on their personal information. Some of those ads were bought by Russian agents aiming to influence the election, as well as shady organisations like Cambridge Analytica that obtained user data improperly, leading to backlash against Facebook.
Facebook also has good reason to set a high bar for medical advertisements – the company has attempted to crack down on anti-vaccination misinformation that isn’t grounded in science but has struggled to enforce that policy unilaterally.
Now Facebook enforces a policy that sets a high bar for entities advertising about “social issues, elections, or politics.” To become authorised, entities must go through an authorization process, providing Facebook with a US government-issued ID so that the ads can be tied back to a specific person.
That’s what Apicha CHC did this week to get its ads approved. But, according to Miner, the approval is temporary until Facebook can verify he is a resident of New York.
Apicha CHC is specifically focused on LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders, and directs ads at people living in New York. Because it targets specific demographics, and because Facebook determined its ads on HIV prevention fell into the political-ads bucket, Facebook blocked the ads until Apicha CHC went through its rigorous authentication process, Miner said.
Facebook’s decision was a confusing bump in the road for Apicha CHC, Miner said, especially because, at first, it was unclear whether the organisation should go through Facebook’s authorization process or simply change the content of its ads to be less “political.”
Miner said he ultimately spoke with a Facebook representative, who informed him that all ads involving medical issues would fall under the umbrella of social issues or politics – despite the fact that Apicha CHC had run hundreds of ads about their medical services before without issue.
In this sense, Facebook’s enforcement of its own rules has been inconsistent in Apicha CHC’s case.
Facebook’s ad archive shows that it has ran previous ads from the clinic that it determined were not “about social issues, elections, or politics.” In May, for instance, Facebook approved an ad from Apicha CHC promoting the Queens Pride march “to support the LGBTQ+ community,” which Facebook did not determine to be about social issues or politics.
Miner said the ordeal has at least publicized the clinic’s efforts to raise awareness of PrEP, the drug that prevents the transmission of HIV.
“The media attention has gotten the issue of PrEP and its general awareness to a much larger audience, so in that sense, it’s not all bad,” Miner said.
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