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Facebook Removed Elizabeth Warren's Ads Calling For Its Breakup. Then It Put Them Back Up.

“In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.”

Posted on March 11, 2019, at 7:25 p.m. ET

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Facebook briefly removed and then restored four ads on Monday from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which advocated for the breaking up big technology companies, for violating its terms of service.

On Monday, the social networking company confirmed that it had removed the ads, all of which featured a video with a thumbnail image incorporating Facebook’s logo. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.”

Facebook’s decision to take down the ads comes amid immense scrutiny of its power to distribute content and advertising across its vast platform. Last Friday, Warren, a Democratic hopeful for the 2020 presidential election, unveiled a plan to use antitrust enforcement to break up companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, arguing that they have too much power in the online media, advertising, and retail industries. Warren framed her platform as one that will restore and protect competition in the tech industry.

“Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy,” Warren wrote in her ad. “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. It’s time to break up these big companies so they don’t have so much power over everyone else.”

Facebook's ad archive shows various ads being run by Warren's presidential campaign. The ad on the right was briefly taken down by Facebook for violating the company's ad policies because it employed the Facebook logo.
Facebook Ad Archive / Via Facebook: ads

Facebook's ad archive shows various ads being run by Warren's presidential campaign. The ad on the right was briefly taken down by Facebook for violating the company's ad policies because it employed the Facebook logo.

The text didn’t violate Facebook’s terms of service, according to a company spokesperson, but an accompanying video did by including an unauthorized use of Facebook’s corporate logo. The minute and a half clip, narrated by Warren, features graphics with all three companies’ logos and argues that they “run the internet.”

The ads, which debuted last Friday, went down sometime between then and Monday afternoon. Facebook’s ad archive shows that the four ads had less than $100 in backing each, with three garnering fewer than 1,000 impressions and one garnering between 1,000 and 5,000 impressions. Politico first spotted the ads’ removal.

Facebook’s advertising policies state that ads should not use the Facebook brand in a way that makes the company a prominent feature. They also mandate that “Facebook brand assets should not be modified in any way, such as by changing the design or color, or for the purpose of special effects or animation.”

@digiphile @facebook @robjective @ewarren This is the (long standing) policy - FYI https://t.co/vd9wLFHG5K

Warren's advertising campaign on Facebook also featured ads that Facebook did not remove. Those ads featured similar text paired with static images of Warren’s face or the bolded message “Break Up Big Tech.”

A spokesperson for Warren's campaign pointed to a tweet from the candidate without adding further comment. "Thanks for restoring my posts," Warren wrote on Twitter on Monday evening. "But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor."

Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor. #BreakUpBigTech https://t.co/UPS6dozOxn

Multiple former and current Facebook employees called the decision to remove the post “stupid” and said the company’s policies were “outdated.” Facebook uses a combination of automated systems and human moderators to police advertisements.

Facebook is no stranger to controversy when it comes to the mistaken moderation of political ads. Last November, the company came under fire for rejecting an ad for Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a decision that it later called “a mistake.” The removal, in turn, brought more attention to Blackburn, who then alleged that it was an example of Facebook censoring conservative viewpoints, a tenuous and largely unproven argument.

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