SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California is calling for Facebook to take responsibility and address disparities in the treatment of content by LGBTQ creators on its platform. Earlier this summer, Facebook repeatedly rejected a video advertisement for Unsung Lilly, Sera and Frankie Golding-Young’s band, which featured an image of the two women with their foreheads touching. Facebook called the ad “adult content” and “sexually explicit.”
“I wracked my brain wondering what could be sexually explicit about our video…and then I realized that it might be the image of my wife and me,” said Sera Golding-Young. “It’s a romantic image of us with our foreheads touching. We use it for all our profile photos across all platforms because we believe it’s a beautiful artistic shot of two people in love.”
Suspecting that the romantic image of Sera and Frankie was the reason their video was rejected, the couple decided to test Facebook’s advertising platform by running three different ads: the original ad with the romantic image, a second ad with a man and a woman in the same pose, and a third with a different image of Sera and Frankie. The three advertisements were otherwise identical. Facebook only blocked the ad with the image of the two women touching foreheads.
When the ACLU of Northern California reached out to Facebook, the company admitted that blocking Unsung Lilly’s ad was a mistake. But Facebook refused to say what algorithmic or human decisions led to the advertisement being removed and provided no explanation of why the test advertisements were accepted.
“The unjustified rejection of Unsung Lilly’s ad, and Facebook’s unwillingness to be transparent about blocking the ad, are yet another example of the company’s failure to take basic steps to rectify a system that is disproportionately harming vulnerable communities,” said Jacob Snow, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Just weeks ago, we saw a Black creators page mistakenly deactivated by Facebook for no good reason. Facebook needs to take responsibility for those consequences.”
As the world faces an unprecedented pandemic that is financially crushing, many musicians and artists increasingly rely on Facebook as an essential tool to connect with fans. But when artists like Unsung Lilly are censored, there’s often nothing they can do.
The ACLU of Northern California is calling on Facebook to stop making excuses and start taking action. First, Facebook’s Community Standards and Advertising Policies should be audited to determine if standards for “adult” content disproportionately impacts the content of women and same-sex couples. Second, Facebook should be transparent and specific when blocking ads deemed to violate its policies. And third, Facebook should ensure that advertisers can contest the removal of content and obtain a meaningful review.