UPDATE (2/8/2019, 2:06 p.m.): Facebook has responded to our request for comment. Their reply can be found at the bottom of this post.
Original Story: Facebook apparently has a problem with Black Lives Matter. While stories spread about members of the African-American activist group being systematically murdered, activists continue to deal with banishment and censorship for posting their grievances with racism and violence in America. The latest casualty isn't an individual, or even a proper activist page: It's FORM.
On Wednesday, the music festival promoter, which runs the yearly FORM Arcosanti festival in the experimental desert community north of Phoenix, posted a note to its Instagram page claiming that Facebook had disabled its advertisements on the service. The reason? The festival's lineup poster, which was released this week, had been flagged for including the words "Black Lives Matter."
Reached via email, FORM co-founder Zach Tetreault says the account was briefly shut down by Facebook because of the inclusion of "politically charged" content in the poster. One of the artists on FORM's bill is Patrisse Culors, who is listed as of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"We took to Instagram about it, where our supporters helped us spread the message," says Tetreault. "It's since been reinstated."
The poster, which is back up on Facebook, says nothing about what Culors will be doing at FORM, nor does it give any opinion on Black Lives Matter. It simply says who Culors is and what she's involved with, which is apparently grounds for demonetization.
A statement from FORM reads "FORM strives to bring not only exceptional but challenging programming and an environment of freedom, safety, creative expression, and understanding to the festival landscape where artists and audience alike can share music, art, and ideas freely and openly. All within a safe space and through respectful intellectual dialogue."
FORM's banning may have to do with Facebook's algorithms and a small army of censors, which search the site for hate speech but have been known to unintentionally treat activism and racism with equal heft. A 2017 investigation by ProPublica detailed the process.
Facebook has been accused of banning several black activists over the years, though most cases have dealt with individual users. In 2016, the corporation temporarily banned well-known activist Shaun King, then a reporter with the New York Daily News, for posting a screenshot of an email he received calling him the n-word. In 2017, Facebook apologized to Ijeoma Oluo, another black activist, for suspending her account after she posted screenshots of similar racist comments.
Internally, the company has had to deal with racial issues. Last year, former Facebook employee Mark Luckie spoke out against the company's corporate culture, which he says is exclusionary toward its black and Latinx workers. In 2016 it was reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent a company-wide memo regarding "Black Lives Matter" being crossed out on company message boards. Only 4 percent of Facebook's U.S. staff is black.
Meanwhile, Facebook seems to feel comfortable giving deferential treatment, or at least turning a blind eye, to law enforcement activity on the platform. Many police departments across the country have been caught using fake accounts, which violate Facebook's terms of service, to spy on activists. Also in 2016, Facebook granted a request from the Baltimore Police Department to disable the account of Korryn Gaines before she was shot and killed by officers in the department.
A representative from Facebook sent the following message to Phoenix New Times:
They are not and have not been banned from Facebook. I can explain why they were having some issues with their ads, which is related to our new policy around “Issues of National Importance” which have a few extra steps involved prior to being allowed to run on Facebook (they aren’t “banned”).
However, we re-reviewed several of the ads and determined that they don’t require this level of transparency given that there is no greater advocacy related context to the advertisement. We have overturned those ads.
The message went on to elaborate on Facebook's "Issues of National Importance" policy:
We require advertisers that run ads touching on these specific issues outlined in the hyperlinked list to be authorized (send us some information verifying you are in the U.S. and are who you say you are), and then disclose who paid for the ad next to the “sponsored line.” The ads are allowed to run so long as these extra steps are completed. This policy and these extra steps were implemented prevent foreign interference in elections and add transparency to Facebook ads. We certainly are not trying to create unnecessary obstacles for individuals or groups but we are committed to transparency and to protecting foreign interference.
FORM Arcosanti 2019 will take place Friday, May 10, to Sunday, May 12, at Arcosanti.
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