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how facebook censored rabble rouser

SCOOP: Rabble Rouser’s investigation into Facebook’s devious ad policies and their censorship of the free press.​

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Francesca Palmacci

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As an initial step in promoting Rabble Rouser, I set up an Instagram account under the handle ‘rabblerousermag’. Rabble Rouser paid six dollars stretched over the course of six days to promote a post. A promotive photo with the Rabble Rouser logo and a call to send in any ideas for features, this request was approved within minutes. A few days later a second post was created, this time including an exclusive preview of two of Rabble Rouser's features - one about Godey’s Lady’s book, as seen in ‘The Forgotten Magazine’ feature, and another titled ‘The Democrat Dilemma’


Over four days Facebook rejected my request to turn this post into an advertisement four times. The caption contains no implication of political bias, nor do any of the features, only a blasé usage of the word “democrat”. No political bias or endorsement is implied. Facebook does not provide a complete list of words that are not allowed use in promotions, leaving decisions to be made without any checks and balances, which is dangerous ground to stand on - it breeds an abuse of power.


According to Facebook: 


“To help us prevent fake IDs and other abuses, we don't accept photos that have been digitally modified to hide information.


We already ignore any sensitive information on your ID that is not required to confirm your identity, such as your ID number and social security number.


You can also physically cover any non-essential information on your ID before you take a photo of the document.”





On the same day, my ad was disapproved an artistic rendering of a photograph by photographer Tristian Zhou of an apartment complex in Hong Kong was censored on the Saatchi Gallery’s Instagram page.


The post was encouraging users in lockdown to “make the most of being stuck at home by getting creative with a collage/ photo manipulation/ painting/ sculpture/ 3D work etc. of the view from your window”. 


I emailed the French-based fact-checking organization that had flagged the post, ‘CheckNews de Liberation’, with the help of Google Translate, asking why they censored the ad if its art and inherently isn’t “real”. Despite numerous attempts, they failed to reply to comment.  


However, Rabble Rouser has obtained an exclusive comment from Zhou.


“The image being flagged as “partially false” is technically “correct”, since the actual building is not exactly the same as the one [that] appears in my photo. However, I’ve stated in the caption of that post, that this image was a part of a series I was creating, shot on wide-angle lenses, and enhanced in the post. I’ve never claimed that this picture was real or never tired [to] mislead people, so I guess Instagram should do a better job researching the original post instead of auto-flagging creators’ posts without knowing they are just a form of art.” 





Facebook is censoring art, Democratic-related ads, and Rabble Rouser, while, at the same time letting pro-Trump advertisements run. 


The Lincoln Project, a Republican PAC led by lobbyist and marriage counselors most profitable client, George Conway, Kellyanne Conway’s husband ran an ad on May 4th titled “Mourning in America”, asking “if we have another four years like this, will there even be an America?”. The ad was quickly taken down from Facebook, and in the ever sophisticated words of our favorite philosopher, Mr. Trump, “it's not fair to Abraham Lincoln, they should call it the losers project”. 


On May 28th, Trump signed an executive order attempting to strip Twitter of its ability to remove objectionable content. The anger stemming from Twitter adding a violence warning In front of  one of his tweets that included the line “when the looting starts the shooting starts”, which was first said by a segregationist police chief in 1967. 




Everyone’s favorite amphibian, Mark Zuckerberg, has continued to be adamant that Facebook will not censor political advertisements, even if they include false information, a claim that he recently echoed during an interview with Fox News on May 28th. Then why, is Facebook continuing to ruthlessly censor advertisements vaguely alluding to politics, and art?


Rabble Rouser successfully promoted a post containing a satirical photo of Jared Kushner, in all his bulletproof vest glory wearing an N95 mask inside of an inflatable ball. The ad was approved within fifteen minutes of our request. After trial and error, the key to getting ads passed through Facebook’s algorithm is to show it, not say it. Encouraging users to be deceptive in their wording to work their way around the ominous algorithm creates a lack of transparency that is unethical and undemocratic.


Facebook clings onto a false scale of justice by banishing alt-right groups from its platforms unless they’re coming from Kremlin walls. In uncertain times when job prospects are thin, young people should be given the freedom to share their work with an audience without unnecessary policing. Facebook claims to be a company that “promotes” liberalism and garners large audiences amongst “liberal” countries and groups, but the irony is that these claims of freedom serve as a conspicuous cover-up for censorship.



The saga reached its climax when Rabble Rouser switched out the word “democrat” for “republican” and “Democratic Party” for “Republican Party” on our post that had been continually rejected. Twenty-three hours after the request was put in, it was approved, and the ad was running. The ad was identical to the failed one: it contained the same photos, and the same captions. The only difference was that it contained the word“republican” instead of “democrat”.







Through Rabble Rouser's investigation, Facebook's bias was brought to light. It is no secret that Facebook is partisan. "Republican" ads are passed by bots without a second artificial thought while "democrat" ones are banned. This shows that whatever AI bot they have scanning over ads lets ones with republican go through seamlessly, and ignored any seemingly for the “democratic party” no matter how many appeals are files or how many explanations are given. 


Facebook is a land without law for conservatives or conservative groups looking to spread propaganda, the single use of the word “democrat” or “democratic party” rings alarm bells and is immediately given the guillotine. Despite Zuckerberg’s promises, as re-stated in his recent interview that “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online" and that, “what I believe is that in a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgements.” Rabble Rouser, a student-made magazine focusing on politics and fashion is no super PAC, but illustrates that sure, money matters, but that any message, seemingly in support of the democratic party, whether six or six million dollars have been spent on it, is struck down without reason. Facebook will do everything in its power to get Trump re-elected. Rabble rousers or dissenters of any kind are silenced. Facebook is the downfall of democracy. 


Zhou's work displayed on the Saatchi Gallery's Instagram page before it was censored. 

Zhou's photograph after it was censored for containing "partially false information".

The audience caught on, and comments flooded in asking why and how art can be censored.

The original post that was rejected four times. I originally thought the use of the word "politics" in my caption was the reason why my ad was rejected. Note the use of the word "democrat" and "Democratic Party."

The message I received after my ad request was denied the first time. I was told I needed to prove my identity in order to run the ad. I asked for Facebook explicitly tell me what in the ad disqualified it from running. 


The full post that was promoted. All of the "slides" are identical to the first post that was rejected. 

The only difference was "DEMOCRAT" and "DEMOCRATIC PARTY" were replaced with "REPUBLICAN" and "REPUBLICAN PARTY". This is the scoop


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