EDITOR’S NOTE: Facebook has since apologized for rejecting the ad but falsely claimed it had been approved on Monday, according to the school. See our update here.
‘We’ll see if it gets rejected again’
As its stock price continues to drop due to the revelation that Facebook let political campaigns of all stripes mine user data, the social network is facing a new accusation from a small Catholic university in Ohio: anti-Christian bigotry.
On Good Friday, the day Christians worldwide commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Franciscan University of Steubenville attempted to publish a series of Facebook advertisements for its master’s degree program in theology, catechetics, and evangelization.
Facebook immediately put its foot down, refusing to approve one ad because it contained “shocking, sensational, or excessively violent content,” according to a university official.
What was so inappropriate that Facebook would ban an ad? It contained an image of the San Damiano cross (below), a medieval icon depicting the crucified Christ that is commonly associated with the Franciscan order, the university’s web communications director, Tom Crowe, wrote in a blog post that same day.
It is said that Jesus spoke to the order’s founder, St. Francis of Assisi, from the original San Damiano cross, now on display at the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy.
Crowe’s post noted the irony of Facebook’s rejection occurring on Good Friday, for Christ was “despised and rejected of man.” He continued: “It was ever thus and will ever be, for those who do not see with the eyes of faith, and love with a love unquenchable.”
Crowe told The College Fix in an email that Facebook had rejected the university’s ads before, but never because of their content or viewpoint. They simply contained too much text: “Facebook only allows 20 percent of an image used in an ad to be covered with words and rejects images with more than that.”
In fact, “this is the first time an image of Christ crucified has been rejected” by Facebook when the university submitted such a design, Crowe said.
The image is indeed “too shocking, too sensational” in a theological sense, which made the timing of Facebook’s rejection “so poignant,” Crowe continued:
[Facebook] couldn’t have fulfilled the Scriptures better if they tried, and that, more than anything else, is what I tried to convey in my quick blog post about it on Friday. It really isn’t a matter of religious bigotry, in my opinion, it’s one of the world, in its ignorance and self-importance, with its sense of how God ought to act, being shocked and disgusted by how God does, in fact, act.
Facebook used to offer a manual review for rejected ads when requested, according to Crowe, but Facebook has since changed its “setup” and now the only option he could see was to submit a new ad.
Crowe said that he cropped the image “a tiny bit” and resubmitted it: “We’ll see if it gets rejected again.” He suspects that an algorithm, not a Facebook employee, made the decision, given that the university had worked with Facebook technicians to improve its marketing and advertising strategies in the past.
Why aren’t Holocaust images blocked, then?
A Franciscan professor isn’t willing to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, however.
Benjamin Wiker, who teaches political science, told The Fix there was “no way” that this was done on accident. He thanked Facebook rhetorically “for the free advertising” for the university by so blatantly rejecting an ad on religious grounds.
Wiker said Franciscan wasn’t the only advertiser scorned by Facebook on this subject: A blogger who runs the website Passion of Christ recently said Facebook rejected her ad that depicted images from Christ’s passion.
According to The Stream, Facebook also rejected ads submitted by “Sylvia” for blog posts with titles such as “Easter – The Victory of Jesus Christ” and “Are you being deceived by the devil?” Not all of them include crucifixion images, it said. A year-old post that she sought to advertise again – ironically, one that explicitly denounced violence – was also rejected by Facebook for a new ad.
Wiker said that Facebook was already in enough trouble due to what it does with the massive amounts of data it collects, and this will only add to it.
He doesn’t think it’s possible for an algorithm to accidentally block the image of the San Damiano cross, because that would beg the question why images of the Holocaust – which are “horrific” by definition – weren’t being blocked.
Facebook’s media relations team did not respond to The Fix’s request for comment.
IMAGE: Public domain