Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the brilliant Israeli conservative philosopher Yoram Hazony tells the story of how Facebook quashed his attempts to publicize his new book, “The Virtue of Nationalism.”
Hazony begins by noting that he was trying to take advantage of Facbook’s offer to “boost my post,” their way of suggesting he buy advertising. Hazony pressed “Boost Post,” then obsessively followed the click count every four minutes. Facebook alerted him, “Your ad is doing better than most promotions on Facebook.”
Two weeks later, Hazony was alerted by Facebook, “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.” Hazony writes:
My boost was now stamped with a verdict in red letters: “Rejected.” I found a window for submitting appeals. “My book is concerned with the historical development of the nation-state and the case for preferring it to imperialism,” I groveled. I offered to send the robots a copy so they could see for themselves.
Next, Hazony was informed by “Veronica”: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political, based on the definition we’re using for enforcement. You must authorize your page to run political ads.”
After studying Facebook’s definitions for “political content” and finding they meant support for candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation, Hazony responded, “Dear Veronica, I don’t see anything in the ad that qualifies as ‘political’ based on Facebook’s definition. Could you specify which aspects of the ad qualify as ‘political’?”
No more “Veronica.” Now it was “Sol”: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political.”
Hazony was informed by a friend that he had to “register.” Hazony writes:
For days I answered the robots’ questions and uploaded personal documents. Finally, they mailed me a paper letter with a secret code. I entered it. The robots were pleased: “You’re all set. When the Page admin has completed the next step you’ll be able to run ads.”
Finally, Facebook alerted Hazony it had “linked my ad accounts.”
Thrilled, Hazony went to his ad and clicked “Boost Post.” Nope. Now he got, “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.”
After 10 weeks, I have no ads. But I’m left with a question, like a splinter in my mind, driving me mad: Did Facebook get its “political ads” policy from Monty Python, while outsourcing customer service to HAL from “2001”? Or is it simply unwilling to run ads for a book about the virtue of nationalism?