How Facebook's Political Ad Verification Policy Stifles Immigration Activists

The social media company says it's working to resolve concerns that the policy will silence countless activists, particularly undocumented people decrying the Trump administration.
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A lit sign at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

A lit sign at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Immigrant rights groups are demanding that Facebook rethink a new policy requiring political advertisers to submit their Social Security numbers, federal government identification, and addresses. The groups say the policy will inevitably block many from accessing the platform, particularly undocumented activists decrying the Trump administration's immigration practices.

On Friday, a coalition of rights organizations lambasted Facebook's policies, which the company enacted in May in response to growing outcry over Russian interference in the 2016 election. "All the while Facebook clamps down on legitimate and non-political advocacy by immigrants and non-profit organizations, it has featured paid advertising by the Customs and Border Patrol agency for the past few months," the coalition's statement reads. "The question must be asked: which side is Facebook on?"

Despite the closure of Facebook pages by and related to far-right pundit Alex Jones' Infowars on Monday, the activists say that a number of hate groups remain active on the platform. "Instead of suppressing the First Amendment rights of immigrant communities, Facebook should instead focus on cracking down on hate speech and far-right misinformation campaigns, both of which remain rampant on its platform," says Heidi Hess, the co-director of the progressive advocacy group CREDO Action.

The activists behind Friday's statement are calling on the social media giant to find a better way to address concerns over how its response—noble as the intent may have been—might effectively silence large swaths of political activists.

"Facebook is perfectly within its right to try to correct the mistakes of the past. However, one-size-fits-all policies rarely work," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights advocacy organization, tells Pacific Standard. "States such as California have successfully implemented programs that require proof of residency and identity, such as the Driver's License under bill AB 60, and thus far one million people have benefited. Facebook must ensure that, in trying to fix a problem, it does not create additional ones."

Some of the participating advocates behind Friday's statement say they are prepared to come to the table with Facebook to find a better solution. But thus far, they say, Facebook has not addressed their request.

"Our country is in a state of moral emergency," says Cory Fischer, the communications director at Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, one of the advocacy groups in the coalition, "and it's vital that immigrants are able to share their stories, educate the broader public, connect to crucial services, and address this crisis on a widely used, important platform like Facebook."

Facebook indicated to Pacific Standard that an answer was imminent.

"The advertiser authorization process is designed to help ensure people know who's behind the political ads they see on Facebook," says a Facebook employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We fully understand that the process, as currently designed, presents challenges for some groups and we're exploring solutions now to address those concerns."

The Facebook employee says the policy was aimed at offering users transparency concerning the origin of political ads and preventing electoral interference, and adds that the company's policies are continuously evaluated and modified.

Activists observe that the Facebook policy as it stands does not only affect the undocumented who are without the necessary identification but a host of other dissidents, including people uncomfortable attaching their Social Security number to their activism in a time where President Donald Trump has responded to opposition with apparent fury.

Brandi Collins-Dexter, the media justice director at the civil rights group Color of Change, says a very broad umbrella of rights advocates are being deterred by the policy.

"Eleven percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver's license or a passport and it is low-income, black, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities that disproportionately lack the identification Facebook is requiring for them to buy political ads for issues that directly impact their lives and communities," she says.

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