Facebook Removes a Gospel Group’s Music Video
Posted July 5, 2018 10:38 p.m. EDT
Updated July 5, 2018 10:39 p.m. EDT
Facebook’s recent crackdown on advertising it considers political has already affected news publishers and small businesses like hair salons and day-care centers.
Now a gospel music group can be added to the list.
Last month, Zion’s Joy!, a vocal ensemble from Indianapolis, posted a video to its Facebook page for a new song, “What Would Heaven Look Like.” The video opens with images of strife and protests — including scenes of demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia — as the group sings lines including, “I know it might feel like this trouble will stay, but this world will soon fade away.”
“We want to touch people’s hearts and let people know that we can do better than the world is doing right now,” Robert W. Stevenson, the group’s founder, said in an interview.
After a week, Zion’s Joy! decided to promote the video by paying Facebook for a “boost.” That’s when the social media giant’s algorithm flagged “What Would Heaven Look Like” as “political content” and blocked the video altogether, Stevenson said.
In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday that its political ad policy is “new, broad and exists to prevent election interference, so we’re asking people with content that falls under those rules to simply get authorized and show who paid for the ad in order for it to run.”
“Separately,” the statement continued, “we made an error by deleting the original post. As soon as we identified what happened, we restored the post since it does not violate our Community Standards and have apologized to Zion’s Joy.”
The removal of the video is only the latest example of how Facebook’s rules for identifying political content — tightened in the wake of political pressure over the company’s role in the 2016 presidential election — have labeled various forms of content as political, stirring objections from users and publishers.
The New York Times has complained that its paid promotions for its reporting on politics — and even for posts on subjects as innocuous as a cake recipe — have been treated as political advertising by Facebook. More recently, Facebook notified a publisher in Texas that it had violated the social network’s standards on hate speech by posting an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. (In the company’s defense, the excerpt included the term “Indian Savages,” and Facebook told Gizmodo it had removed the post “by mistake and restored it as soon as we looked into it.”)
Under Facebook’s new rules, all “election-related and issue ads” — including posts that are promoted through paid boosts — must contain a disclosure about who paid for them, and the ads will be collected into a searchable archive.
The first 30 seconds of the four-minute video for “What Would Heaven Look Like” include scenes of protesters crying, waving the American flag and being carried away in stretchers. There is also a brief image of a demonstrator, standing in front of a building bearing a Trump logo, who is holding a sign critical of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The rest of the video, for the most part, shows the group’s singers lip-syncing in a recording studio and on a rooftop.
Because it included specific, recognizable protests, the video counted as engaging with “issues of public importance,” which led to its being flagged as political.
Stevenson, 64, who noted that he once toured with Marvin Gaye, said the group had been careful to remove any explicit sloganeering from the work.
“We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t leaning one way or the other,” he said. “That it was just how we felt — people loving each other, regardless of race, creed or color.”
The song’s lyric imagines all people praising God and pictures a world in which “bigotry and hate are absent, only love and peace are present.”
Stevenson said Zion’s Joy!, whose Facebook page has just over 1,000 followers, first paid $100 to boost the video in the Midwest. Facebook treated it as a political ad — and removed it from the platform — only after the group tried to pay for a second, national boost.
The company asked Stevenson to verify his identify as part of the process of handling such an ad, but he said he had not decided whether or not to go through with it.
“That would be like admitting that it’s political content, and it’s not,” Stevenson said. “We’re preaching peace and love and coming together.”