Why Does Facebook Think I’m ‘Political’?

By Yoram Hazony, August 28, 2018

The robots at Facebook always send me messages suggesting I “boost my post.” This sounds kinky, but it’s just Zuckerspeak for buying advertising. I’ve avoided these offers because I’m no computer genius. For me, high-tech is writing down my password somewhere.

But ads for Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book Letters to My Palestinian Neighborkept appearing in my feed. I had a book coming out called The Virtue of Nationalism, and like a knucklehead I figured that if Yossi could boost his post, so could I.

I pressed “Boost Post.” Within days, thousands of people were seeing my ad, I was psychotically checking my link-clicks every four minutes, and Facebook’s robots were delighted. “You’re ad is doing better than most promotions on Facebook,” they flattered me. I was like Fast Eddie playing big-time pool. How could I lose?

This lasted two weeks. Then everything changed. A red announcement appeared: “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.” My boosted post was now stamped with a verdict in red letters: “Rejected.”

I found a window for submitting appeals. “My book is concerned with the historical development of the nation-state and the case for preferring it to imperialism,” I groveled. I offered to send the robots a copy of The Virtue of Nationalism so they could see for themselves.

Facebook’s community-oriented sentient programs don’t wear dark glasses or have names like Agent Smith. The response came from an algorithm called“Veronica”:

“The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political, based on the definition we’re using for enforcement,” it said. “You must authorize your page to run political ads.”

Me? Run political ads? I scoured Facebook’s definitions, which said “political content” is support for candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation.

“Dear Veronica,” I pleaded. “I don’t see anything in the ad that qualifies as ‘political’ based Facebook’s definition. Could you specify which aspects of the ad qualify as ‘political’?”

A sentient program called “Sol” replied: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political.”

A friend put me in touch with a Morpheus-like figure working to liberate mankind from Facebook. “You’re not alone,” he said. “Even major media like the New York Times and small businesses that aren’t political are being told to register.”

I figured that if the New York Times could register, so could I. For days I answered the robots’ questions and sent them personal documents. Finally, they mailed me a letter on paper with a secret code (to demonstrate they can operate in daylight, I believe). I entered the code and the robots were pleased: “You’re all set. When the Page admin has completed the next step you’ll be able to run ads.”

Who was “the Page admin”? What “next step” was it contemplating? I recruited a computer-genius friend to help. He spent days hacking through the Zuckerspeak. After a dozen runs, the robots issued a green check-mark saying I’d “linked my ad accounts” (to the mother ship, I believe) and could run political ads.

I was in. I brought up the ad and clicked “Boost Post.”

The robots replied: “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.” A sentient program called “Lync” explained: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political.”

After ten weeks, I have no ads. But I’m left with a question, like a splinter in my mind, driving me mad:

Did Facebook get their “political ads” policy from Monty Python, while outsourcing customer services to HAL from 2001?

Or are they just unwilling to advertise a book about The Virtue of Nationalism?

A version of this essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 25, 2018. You can read the original here.

For more information about my book The Virtue of Nationalism (Publisher: Basic Books, September 4, 2018) go here.

To buy the book, click here.

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