If you used Facebook in late November, you probably saw a stream of fundraising campaigns for charities and cultural organizations. That’s because Facebook offered up to $7 million in matching donations for nonprofits that used its platform to raise funds on Giving Tuesday. But this gesture masks the negative impact Facebook’s newly adopted advertising policies have had on nonprofit organizations that rely on social media.
In response to public scrutiny stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal this year, Facebook has implemented enforcement measures aimed at improving election security and discouraging anonymous political messages. These measures have been poorly executed and inconsistently applied. They unfairly burden charitable organizations and small businesses, yet are easy for organized or well-funded actors to circumvent.
Several paid advertising campaigns run by my colleagues and clients have been inexplicably obstructed by Facebook’s policing in the past several months. Facebook refused to allow my New York cultural nonprofit, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, to pay to promote a post encouraging people to vote in the midterms because our page was not “authorized to run ads related to politics.” A campaign promoting a lecture about sculpture at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was blocked because Facebook’s censors mistakenly believed it was intended to influence an election in Ireland.
Similarly, Arts Japan 2020, an entity that highlights Japan-related cultural programs in the U.S., was unable to promote a post celebrating an award given by the emperor of Japan to an American arts curator. Facebook claimed the topic was of “national importance.” These harmless posts remain on Facebook in unpromoted form, but unpromoted content has a limited reach.