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Facebook took our election ad money then bulk-deleted our pages

Hacker News - Thu Jul 22 02:17

Bozhidar Bozhanov

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bookcatalog/40992060262

Parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (EU country) were on the July 11th. We (a center-right opposition coalition) were running Facebook pages for each candidate, and spent our digital advertising budget on a portion of them, promoting genuine content authored by candidates themselves.

Then we stopped the ads, and a day later our pages were bulk deleted, mostly without any reason. Not just unpublished or blocked from posting — gone.

Incidentally, the same happened some time after the last election (which was just 3 months prior). Our support tickets got us as far as having the page, but not being able to post anything. And there’s an open support ticket for almost 2 months now.

But this time it was more blatant — almost the moment that the ad money stopped, the pages were wiped. We planned to use them for future elections and to connect with our voters that have enjoyed the content. No luck.

The support ticket is open for 8 days now, and after pinging them, Facebook responded that a “specialized team” is working on the issue. I guess nothing will happen, just like last time.

And before you ask “well, has there been any objectionable content?” the answer is “no”. Really, my topic as a candidate is digital transformation of the public sector. I haven’t discussed anything else on my page, apart from the benefits of digital transformation. And if there was objectionable content, I guess it should’ve been flagged and deleted (with an appeal option). Instead the entire page was gone. The pages had verified identity and all ads used the party disclaimer for political ads. In other words, the deleted pages were fully compliant.

It would certainly be worse if they deleted them mid-campaign, but deleting them right after the ad money stopped is something that hints at the internal procedures at Facebook. Paying accounts are less likely to be “accidentally” removed, it seems. Until they stop paying. A tactic employed in post-communist Bulgaria by strongmen of the day to threaten and racketeer small businesses.

Speaking of strongmen of the day — we have received reports that some local companies handling objectionable content reports for Facebook are linked to oligarchs, including ones recently sanctioned by the US treasury, using the Global Magnitsky Act. We have been unable to verify the correctness of those reports, and I really hope Facebook is not employing companies linked to sanctioned entities for content moderation.

I hope that those weeks-and-months long “specialized investigations” into why benign political pages got deleted involve the investigation of the internal reasons for these debacles. Otherwise Facebook will continue to play an active, and often negative role in politics worldwide — either due to their incompetence, or due to their “we don’t care unless you pay” attitude..