A presence on Facebook is a pretty standard part of any political campaign these days. But when the political campaign is designed to re-elect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to another term, things get a little bit more complicated.
The Syria Campaign took Facebook to task on Monday launching an online petition for the social media company to shut down Assad’s Sawa campaign on the site. The Sawa page has been up for nearly a month ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled election in Syria, but the group’s latest discovery added an extra helping of outrage, via the Guardian: “Advertisements for the Sawa campaign briefly appeared alongside some people’s Facebook pages, depending on their likes and interests; according to the activists, such ads have appeared alongside the pages of Syrians who stand against the Assad regime.”
While that may seem like some pretty shoddy algorithm work by Facebook, there’s also the problem of the page showing up in newsfeeds as “sponsored,” which at the very least means Facebook is doing business with supporters of a dictator that has been accused of using chemical weapons against his own people in a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people.
Here’s more from the Guardian:
Facebook said the ads had been placed from outside Syria and had been taken down, as they contravened the company’s advertising policy. “The ads you referenced are no longer on our platform. We terminated these ads. As always, we take down ads that violate our policies,” said a spokesperson. “We comply with all relevant Syrian sanctions and do not permit ads originating from or targeting Syria.” The spokesperson said Facebook was not currently considering dropping the Sawa site. “With over a billion users around the world, Facebook permits freedom of expression and we want to make sure people feel comfortable coming to Facebook to discuss what’s important to them, while making sure we maintain a safe and respectful community,” he said.
“A Facebook representative refused to say how much money was exchanged for the advertisement or what would happen with the money,” the Washington Post reports.