Facebook’s Problem With Veterans

Its algorithm treats our nonpolitical site as ‘political content.’

 

After 18 years as an executive at MTV, I decided to start a media brand for an underserved audience: American military veterans and their families.

We Are the Mighty, which launched in 2014, has intentionally stayed away from hard news, politics or anything that tries to polarize veterans. Because our entire purpose is to engage this audience, we rely heavily on social media, especially our Facebook page. At first we found, as many publishers have, that there was no better partner than Facebook , the company whose mission statement is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together . . . and express what matters to them.”

Facebook’s Problem With Veterans
PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

Despite Facebook’s frequent and inscrutable changes, our business continued to thrive. We were rewarded—with likes, shares and comments—for our authentic posts, positive message and high engagement. Thanks to Facebook’s enormous scale, we could reach a monthly audience of millions. If we stayed true to our values and remained assiduously nonpolitical, positive and honest, we assumed we could withstand the inevitable tweaks to the algorithm.

Then in June, Facebook said it had changed its policies “in response to criticism over how its ad network was able to be manipulated during elections.” These policies require publishers to label anything considered “political” or “issue-based advertising.” Evidently, if anything in our posts uses the word “military,” we are classified as a “political” advertiser—as seen on Facebook’s Advertiser Help Center in its list of “National Issues of Public Importance”—and must be labeled as such. Publishers like We Are the Mighty must register as creators of “political advertising” to target audiences with such content.

Casting such a wide net has a profound effect on a company whose objective is to provide vets with a space free of politics. These men and women joined the military to defend the Constitution and America, not a political party or agenda. Facebook’s position that all content relating to our community be labeled “political advertising” is antithetical to the very nature of their solemn oath to this country.

We built a double-bottom-line company to give veterans a way to connect, share memories, reflect on their service, honor those who have fallen, help those who are struggling, and find continued purpose in their civilian lives. While the ability to tell those stories does not depend on a single platform, Facebook has no rival in connecting communities around the world.

We hope Facebook will stay true to its original mission. Perhaps with the next algorithm change, publishers who are committed to real people will truly be given “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Mr. Gale is a former head of MTV Films and co-founder of We Are the Mighty.

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