Ahead of a reading for Freedom City in Chicago this month, I opted to “boost” my event page on Facebook to reach a wider audience. This is standard stuff for authors and anyone trying to increase the turnout for an event. You pay $30 or so, and Facebook “suggests” your event to people in the demographic you choose. I’ve done this for all my readings. It works swimmingly.
What a surprise, then, when this time Facebook rejected my ad, deeming it “political.”
No shit. Freedom City is a tragicomedy set in the year after Trump dies from a stroke and features an eclectic band of rebels who wage a guerilla war against American fascism.
I appealed their rejection, citing the clearly satirical nature of my novel. They responded with a link to their new policy whereby advertisers posting ads with any political overtures must provide proof of both their identity and their residency in the United States. Furthermore, the ad must have a disclaimer, explicitly labeling it as political content.
A recent article from The Verge explains Facebook’s new policy best:
The company’s policy on political advertising applies not just to candidate-based ads, but ‘any national legislative issue of public importance in any place where the ad is being run.’ A separate page lists the broader categories expected to require authorization, which includes hot-button issues like ‘abortion’ and ‘guns’ alongside broader concepts like ‘health,’ ‘environment,’ and ‘values.’
Obviously, by setting a higher bar for political content, Facebook is trying to address the scourge of fake news. I applaud their effort. After all, if not for the Russian government’s disinformation campaign, our fascist buffoon never would’ve been elected.
However, isn’t the truly insidious thing about fake news its fakeness masquerading as reality—not its political-ness, per se? By sweeping all “political” ads into the same pile, Facebook is missing the more obvious delineation between content that claims to be factual and that which does not. Fiction and art do not claim to be reality—they are unabashedly “fake” in that sense—and therefore their content is beside the point. Who cares if a novel is political if it makes no effort to conceal its inherent fakeness? I suppose a meme could be news if it contains a factual assertion, but a painting can’t be fake news because its not news.
These arguments were wasted on Facebook, which responded to my appeal by simply sending me another link to their polices. I caved. What else could I do? My Chicago event is looming. I sent Facebook my driver’s license and Social Security number (cringe). To confirm my physical address, I had to wait a week for a letter to come via snail mail. I’m now authorized to run political ads on Facebook, and my humble event is being “boosted” as I type this post—albeit with a disclaimer flagging it as political content.
I would like to go on record by predicting that Facebook’s well-intentioned but Kafkaesque effort to police its sizable slice of the internet is doomed to fail. Under their expansive definition, virtually all content is political. They can’t differentiate free speech that mocks fascism from the fake news that promotes it. Restricting artists, authors, and others whose content is “merely” imaginative will bowdlerize the entire site into nothing but staid, Facebook-approved political ads and Tide Pod memes.
The good news, however, is that Facebook’s death will undoubtedly be good for America. Perhaps it will encourage more people to get offline and to read more newspapers and books.
By the way, if you live in Chicago, come hear me read from my book* at 7 p.m. on June 22ndat Quimby’s Bookstore. Quimby’s is located at 1854 W North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60622. You can find more information here.
* Disclaimer: Freedom City is a work of political satire. Certificate on file with the Ministry of Facebook.