How long will Facebook continue to get away with the "oops, our bad!" excuse? First it was the Russian ads during the 2016 election, then it was the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, now it's videos from conservatives getting blocked (and I'm not even talking about Alex Jones).
The latest example is a four-minute political ad for Elizabeth Heng, a U.S. Congressional candidate from California. Facebook blocked the ad last Friday. On the surface, Heng would seem to tick all the right Silicon Valley boxes – she's 33, minority, female, a successful business owner, Republican… wait, there it is! That's the culprit. If it's not the actual culprit, Facebook's algorithms sure are making it seem that way.
An algorithm is just computer code, right? It can't differentiate between political red and blue. It can't know that Heng is trying to unseat Democrat Jim Costa who's been in office 14 years. Unless you program it to.
I'm not saying the Facebook algorithms are definitely censoring conservative content. But it does look very suspicious.
So what got Heng's video pulled? Well, the ad opens with Heng narrating the story of how her parents escaped the Khmer Rouge communists during the Cambodian civil war and fled to the U.S. The video includes some graphic black and white photos of the atrocities in Cambodia. Heng received an automated message from Facebook saying:
Your ad wasn't approved because it doesn't follow our Advertising Policies. We don't allow ads that contain shocking, disrespectful or sensational content, including ads that depict violence or threats of violence.
In a statement, Heng said:
It is unbelievable that Facebook could have such blatant disregard for the history that so many people, including my own parents, have lived through. I'm sure it is shocking for some people to hear about this kind of injustice, but this is reality.
No word yet on whether the responsible algorithm has been fired.
Then, yesterday morning, Facebook suddenly had a change of heart and approved the ad. A spokesperson said, "It is clear the video contains historical imagery relevant to the candidate's story."
Oops, our bad!
What was different about Facebook's viewing experience yesterday, versus Friday? Because the ad hasn't changed.
No word yet on whether the responsible algorithm has been fired. Facebook is apparently checking the algorithm's Twitter feed before making a decision.