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Why did Facebook ban an ad for a Catholic university?


Inside Facebook headquarters in Mento Park, California Credit: victorgrigas/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Inside Facebook headquarters in Mento Park, California Credit: victorgrigas/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

UPDATED: Facebook has been under fire recently for both the free wheeling way it deals with its poster’s personal information and what some consider its blatant attack on free speech and conservative and Christian viewpoints on its social media website.

In an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, a former Facebook employee alleges the social media giant used software algorithms to restrict the number of conservative news articles that appeared in its “trending news” sidebar. Such a move would impact the number of people viewing articles from conservative news sites.

Facebook is one of the most dominant social media platforms in the world reporting 2.2 billion active users in January 2018. Founder Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in 2004 as a way to connect students attending Harvard University where he was a student.

It was initially limited to Harvard students, but after half the school’s population signed up, Zuckerberg quickly realized there was more of a market for the platform. After bringing in others to work on the site, they initially added other universities and then in 2006 allowed full public access.

The rejected Franciscan ad Credit: Franciscan University of Steubenville

In a blog post on its website, the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio stated that in weeks leading up to Easter, Facebook banned one of its posts advertising the university’s various programs.

The ad included a photo of the San Damiano Cross, a stylized crucifix of Christ being crucified.

After banning the image, Facebook sent an automated message to the university stating “Your image, video thumbnail or video can’t contain shocking, sensational or excessively violent content.”

But the university isn’t buying it, because this is not the first time it has posted an image of a crucifix and wondered what had changed that it would now be banned.

Of course, it happened during a season when some believe Facebook is cracking down on conservative voices on its platform.

Writing for the American Conservative, Rod Dreher suggested the decision to ban the ad was either due to anti-Christian bigotry or religious illiteracy. He gave them the benefit of the doubt saying it was the later, though many would probably disagree.

Last summer Facebook shutdown nearly 24 Roman Catholic pages. Though these were later restored, questions were immediately raised about why this happened. Facebook blamed software algorithms, and some suggest the Franciscan ad may have suffered a similar fate.

If this is the case, others are asking if Facebook’s algorithms are designed to weed out conservative views?

In response to the ad’s rejection, the Franciscan university framed it with a verse from Isaiah:

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3 NASV)

UPDATE: On April 4, 2018, Facebook apologized to the university for blocking its ad and has since approved it.

However, in an interview with Fox News, Tom Crowe who works with the university’s social media was still uncertain of how to interpret the recent banning:

“That said, it is also true that Facebook approved other ads with the exact same image, which again leads me to believe it wasn’t an algorithm, but was a low-level staffer who skims many, many ads and just had something personal against this one. I’ll reiterate that I’m not claiming systemic religious bigotry at Facebook, but in this case it seems something like that happened in a one-off situation.”

Sources:

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