Is Facebook Censoring LGBT Ads?

Boosting is a way to advertise content on Facebook. A Facebook page’s owner can pay a fee to promote that page’s post; the post then shows up in other users’ feeds. Manya Koetse, who runs What’s On Weibo, a website about trends in Chinese social media, says that Facebook rejected her requests to boost the following ads for her page:

Screenshot of one of the rejected posts.
Screenshot of one of the rejected posts.

 

Screenshot of another rejected post.
Screenshot of another rejected post.

Koetse says that Facebook has let her advertise other posts linking to her articles, but the social media juggernaut frequently rejects ads related to trans people or drag.

According to Koetse, Facebook has not offered a satisfying explanation as to why the above ads could not be boosted.

In an email exchange with Unicorn Booty, Koetse wrote:

My article about transgenders in China was disapproved, which was the first time I ever had that happen. Unfortunately, I no longer have the email where they state the reason, but I do remember it was because of nudity or pornographic content. Please judge for yourself. The picture shows no nipples whatsoever, the woman is not even dressed in a bikini or anything. She’s sexy, that’s all. The rest of the article also shows no profanities or nudity and completely complies with Facebook policies.

Facebook has ad policies barring sexually explicit content, but was the What’s on Weibo’s trans post that racy? Let’s take a look at it again:

Screenshot of one of the rejected posts.
Screenshot of one of the rejected posts.

The woman in the picture is posed in a sultry way, but there’s no nudity. There’s nothing racier in that picture than in a typical college girl’s selfies.

Facebook doesn’t reject all sexual ads, either. Here are a few sponsored posts that Facebook deemed acceptable:

A sponsored post approved by Facebook
A sponsored post approved by Facebook

Facebook thought this ad was okay, even though its content is overtly sexual.

A boosted post approved by Facebook.
A boosted post approved by Facebook.

This ad was also approved, even though it refers to nudes and features an image of bare breasts.

What’s On Weibo’s other forbidden post is really tame:

Screenshot of another rejected post.
Screenshot of another rejected post.

It would be very difficult to argue that an image of a person in a loose, flowing garment is too sexy for the internet. So why was it rejected?

Koetse wrote:

My article about Tom who photographs the drag scene in Beijing has been disapproved three times. At one time, I got a reply after complaining that said “Hi Manya Thank you for notifying us about your ad disapproval. We’ve reviewed your ad again and have determined it complies with our policies. Your ad is now approved.”

But within a few hours, it was disapproved again. Facebook has not replied to my emails asking why this is.

Were these ads rejected just for featuring LGBT content? If so, this wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 2009, filmmaker Ellen Seidler claimed that Facebook unfairly rejected ads for her lesbian romance And Then Came Lola.

And a few years ago, Facebook came under fire for banning images of breastfeeding mothers while allowing hate groups to proliferate.

More recently, Facebook has changed its mind and decided to allow breastfeeding and frown upon hate groups.

It’s reasonable for a website to have content standards and community guidelines, but it’s unreasonable to enforce them in an uneven, biased way. And if Facebook rejects LGBT-related ads for being too sexual while permitting similar hetero ads, then the company is sending the message that being queer is obscene.