Halifax bookstore event, vaccine survey ads blocked by Facebook

Facebook is backtracking after blocking ads promoting a Nova Scotia Health Authority survey about vaccines and a book event in Halifax with journalist Desmond Cole about his experience as a black man in Canada.

The company said it erred when it refused to promote the ads.

This week, Facebook cited to the health authority and the university bookstore relatively new rules pertaining to events that are deemed to promote social issues, elections or politics. In each case, it gave the Facebook page's administrator the option of submitting identification to be verified.

Paul MacKay, who manages the King's Co-op Bookstore and its Facebook account, said he would've been fine submitting an address and phone number but drew that line at a photo ID.

"I just don't want to put all my information on the Internet," he said. "Facebook has proven to not be a terribly trustworthy company on top of that."

The bookstore's event in question is a Feb. 13 book launch for Cole and his new book The Skin We're In, which documents his encounters with police and racial profiling. The bookstore was using a description of the book that came from its publisher.

Jack Julian/CBC
Jack Julian/CBC

MacKay said he had never seen anything like this happen with other events.

"It just seems a little on the nose, especially with Desmond who's had his own troubles with police consistently documented," he said.

"It definitely presents, creates a barrier to anyone trying to document this type of thing for anyone who is uncomfortable with Facebook having all their information, or being the arbiter of what is allowed and what is not allowed to be out there."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority ran into the same problem while trying to boost an ad about a survey that discussed immunizations for children.

The aim was to understand why parents of children born after 2011 chose to immunize, or not immunize, their children. It was part of a national project that aims to bring Nova Scotia's immunization rates up to the national target of 95 per cent.

Jack Julian/CBC
Jack Julian/CBC

John Gillis, who speaks for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and is an administrator on its Facebook page, said the authority had "no political intentions at all."

"It's part of the work we do," he said. "We've run a very similar ad for it in the recent past. But when we tried to do it this week, Facebook rejected it, considering health to be a social issue."

Gillis said a nearly identical ad published about a month ago had no issues.

But this time Facebook wanted him to submit scans of a passport, driver's licence or government ID in order for the post to be authenticated. He declined.

Policy started last year, says Facebook

In a statement to CBC, Facebook said it instituted a policy last year it said was aimed to create more transparency. It said it now requires people running ads about social issues, politics or elections to be identified and that the ad includes disclaimers on who or what entity paid for it.

It says anyone submitting ads regarding civil and social rights, environmental politics, economy, health, immigration, political values and governance and security and foreign policy must be authenticated by the company.

MacKay said the bookstore would try to promote Cole's book reading through word of mouth and more traditional ways. He said in the future he won't be trying to boost any other events on Facebook.