Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Why did Facebook reject The Spectator’s Joe Biden cover?

Earlier this week, I was asked to list the three biggest threats to the media. Aside from the general sales decline of newspapers, I said, the threat of bot censorship – and the lack of accountability from the firms who apply it. We at The Spectator have just come across a classic example of this, when Facebook refused to publish this week’s cover satirising Joe Biden when we submitted it as an advert. The cover asked if Biden would serve for six more years, but the illustration had him holding up five fingers. A nice joke, but hardly a cruel one. So we appealed. An email came back saying:

You asked for another review of your rejected ads. After another review, it’s been determined that they still don’t comply with our Advertising Policies.

So that was it. Our Biden cover was rejected. No further recourse. Computer says no.

What happened next makes an interesting case study of the power – and accountability – of the social media giants that hold such sway over British public debate. Facebook is now the no.1 source of UK news after the broadcasters, its bots deciding which news posts are promoted and which ones are concealed. Whoever programmes the bots wields more power than any of the great media barons: Hearst, Beaverbrook or Murdoch. I’m not saying that Facebook is politically biased, just that bots are getting more energetic which makes life harder for satire and against-the-grain arguments (from left or right). This is something I now encounter daily: a Kafkaesque process of rejection, lack of explanation and algorithm editing which has far more influence over what we read than is generally acknowledged. 

Facebook, like most social media giants, does not feel the need to respond to people asking why their content has been targeted. There is no hotline to call, no account manager to complain to.

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