Facebook restricts sharing of news article about migrant children being forcibly drugged

By flagging a crucial investigative story, Facebook seems intent on blurring the line between truth and propaganda

Published June 21, 2018 3:01PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)
(Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)

Reveal published the claims from a bombshell lawsuit Wednesday against attorney general Jeff Sessions and the U.S. government, which alleges that immigrant minors are being forcibly injected with drugs. It is a horrific account of abuse, and a piece of the ongoing controversy around immigration policy that allows the detainment of immigrant children in detention facilities. (While President Donald Trump signed an executive order disallowing the separation of immigrant children from their parents, he authorized the detainment of families for an indefinite period of time.)

But apparently, Facebook (or its algorithm) believes that this story constitutes "political content," and thus flagged the post — preventing it from being widely disseminated on the social media behemoth — as Reveal found when they attempted to post the article on their Facebook.

Byard Duncan, Reveal's engagement reporter, told Salon, "In labeling this post as essentially a political ad, Facebook is demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of journalism's relationship to politics. We're covering an issue of utmost public importance – the alleged forcible drugging of migrant children – with precision and care."

He added, "It's doubly frustrating that the company, through recent changes to its algorithm, has effectively limited the spread of legitimate news, pushing many organizations like ours into a position where we're forced to advertise in order to be seen. Then those ads are blocked."

Reveal tweeted a screenshot of the message it received from Facebook, which said: "it looks like this ad may have political content, but your Page has not been authorized to run these types of ads," and the publication captioned the screenshot with a message of its own.

"Hi there, @facebook. This is not political content," the tweet said. "This is journalistic content that deals with policy. There's a difference. Didn't you go over this with @ProPublica recently?"

Reveal linked to a ProPublica article titled, "Facebook’s Screening for Political Ads Nabs News Sites Instead of Politicians." It reports:

Facebook’s new screening policies to deter manipulation of political ads are creating their own problems. The company’s human reviewers and software algorithms are catching paid posts from legitimate news organizations that mention issues or candidates, while overlooking straightforwardly political posts from candidates and advocacy groups.

Facebook's rules instruct anyone running ads, who mention candidates for public office, or are pertaining to elections, or any of 20 "national issues of public importance," verify their Facebooks accounts and include a "paid for by" component.

"The complication is that the 20 hot-button issues — environment, guns, immigration, values foreign policy, civil rights and the like — are likely to pop up in posts from news organizations as well," ProPublica said.

"When it comes to news, Facebook still doesn’t get it. In its efforts to clear up one bad mess, it seems set on joining those who want blur the line between reality-based journalism and propaganda," Mark Thompson, chief executive officer of The New York Times, said.

Facebook's Vice President of ads Ron Goldman responded to a tweet by ProPublica promoting the social media site's rejection of Reveal's news report.

He wrote: "Pages have to authenticate (it's easy to do) to run ads with political content to prevent election interference. News and advocacy are different, and we'll be showing them separately in the transparency archive -- but we flag both to prevent workarounds for bad actors."

Goldman added, "Transparency is a big priority for us to help prevent election interference. But this ad, not the story, was flagged because it contains political content. Soon we’ll launch a separate section in our archive for news ads about politics, which we agree is different than advocacy."

Reveal's article is a clear work of journalism about a new development in the ongoing humanitarian crisis. It reports that the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy, which mandates that any adult crossing the U.S./Mexico border illegally be prosecuted, is "creating a zombie army of children forcibly injected with medications that make them dizzy, listless, obese and even incapacitated" with strong psychiatric drugs.

The report continued, "Children held at Shiloh Treatment Center, a government contractor south of Houston that houses immigrant minors, described being held down and injected, according to the federal court filings. The lawsuit alleges that children were told they would not be released or see their parents unless they took medication and that they only were receiving vitamins."

Read the full report here.

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