Facebook removed advertisements by Senator Elizabeth Warren calling for the breakup of Facebook and other American big tech companies, a newly major issue for Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.
That’s the kind of irony you can only dream up, sparking the kind of smirking outrage that quickly spins beyond comprehension all over social media.
The takedown of the ads, first reported by Politico, took place on Monday because they “violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” a Facebook spokesperson told New York Times reporter Cecilia Kang. After the takedown became public, the company quickly restored the ads on Monday evening “in the interest of allowing a robust debate.”
Former Facebook advertising manager Antonio Garcia Marquez explained on Twitter that the company’s policy has its roots almost a decade ago back when Facebook was plagued the kind of ads falsely claiming Facebook’s endorsements: “Facebook’s most popular game!” and “Facebook’s official social search app!” were frequently seen on the site’s sidebar.
“Given users were often confused by the ad units, there was a global ban on not only using the logo, but even using the word ‘Facebook’ in the ad copy,” Garcia Marquez tweeted. “Think about it: other than this weird Warren use case, who could possibly be legitimately using the company’s name?”
Given the rising global debate around regulating and even breaking up big tech companies, it’s now pretty easy to imagine a whole lot of use cases for using Facebook’s name in Facebook ads.
Will the social media giant adjust its policies to reflect the new realities? Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here’s one of Warren’s ads:
“Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy,” another Warren ad reads. “Facebook, Amazon, and Google. We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”
Another former Facebooker, this time former executive Alex Stamos, tweeted that Facebook “needs to quantify how many ads they reject per day for trademark infringement” because “people assume these decisions are made knowingly, but its really the inevitable outcome of having thousands of contractors take 12 seconds to click ‘yup, that’s a banned logo.’”
Each of the ads cost under $100, according to the campaign’s disclosure details. That tiny spend begs the question: Was getting the ad taken down intentional? Getting publicly slapped by Facebook—even though the takedown was rescinded—will put the ads in front of exponentially more eyeballs than a $100 campaign ever could. More importantly, the takedown illustrates Warren’s point about Facebook’s power over our democracy.
Ad takedowns reliably generate a ton of headlines. Last year, Facebook’s rejection of a Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn’s campaign ad spawned controversy, tweets, headlines and quotes from the campaign about “the liberal elites of Silicon Valley censoring conservative ideas online.”
Facebook apologized for that takedown, too, and called the move a “mistake.”
The Warren campaign did not yet to respond to a request for comment.
Update 8:23pm: As you might expect, Warren responded to Facebook removing her campaign ads by pointing to the obvious. “Curious why I think FB has too much power?” she tweeted. “Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power.”