Both the EFF and the ACLU are celebrating a digital victory, after the “politically-neutral” Facebook reversed its rejection of ads by advocacy groups working on marijuana policy reform.
The ads in question showed marijuana leaves, sometimes with photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and urged viewers to join campaigns to make marijuana reform an election issue. Several versions of similar Facebook ads were submitted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Just Say Now, but both groups were initially rejected. After EFF and the ACLU of Northern California reached out to Facebook about the issue, Facebook did the right thing and restored the ads.
Facebook has publicly established guidelines that state that a Facebook advertisement “may not promote tobacco or tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, tobacco pipes, hookahs, hookah lounges, rolling papers, vaporized tobacco delivery devices and electronic cigarettes.” But the language from the banned ads said simply things like: “Registered to vote? Make your voice heard on historic marijuana ballot measures this November” Another read “Marijuana Reform in 2012 | Obama and Romney are mum on marijuana reform. Learn how to make them start talking.” Rather than advocate for marijuana usage, the banned ads urged users to get involved with fighting for reform.
EFF and the ACLU of Northern California reached out to Facebook to draw more internal attention to the fact that the company was censoring speech that was clearly political in nature. Facebook confirmed that the ads were erroneously rejected, that they do not violate Facebook’s policies, and that they would be quickly reinstated.1 EFF is pleased by Facebook’s prompt action to correct this error and we applaud its ongoing commitment to providing a politically neutral platform for political discussion in the approaching election season. However, given this error, and the need for our intervention, we also urge Facebook to carefully audit its ad review program to ensure that similar legitimate speech is not censored from its network.
Those who have ads rejected are informed by Facebook, and can submit an appeals, but it is not easy without the help of groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read more here.