In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, proclaimed that Facebook was meant to be a platform for all ideas. This was in response to the public’s theory that Zuckerberg was censoring political posts on Facebook. Even then, it was pretty clear that Facebook was, in fact, censoring by removing pages, profiles, and content related to political posts they saw as misleading or inaccurate.
But recently, Facebook seems to be playing both sides of the fence when it comes to censoring, favoring policies supported by well-known organizations like PETA (People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals), self-proclaimed “animal activists” who claim to focus on 4 main areas related to animals and mistreatment in labs, the food industry, the clothing trade, and the entertainment industry.
Of course, it’s also pretty commonly known that they expand beyond their definition pretty often, frequently attacking the beliefs and practices of some of the best pet owners and wildlife activists out there, like Steve Irwin. In February of 2019, PETA even went so far as to tweet a post on Twitter about how much they think Irwin did both before and during his untimely death.
In more recent news, PETA actually purchased Facebook shares. They did this because they were showing videos on Facebook that were gory, disheartening, and downright sad, which Facebook also censored by requiring a warning before their videos played. PETA obviously didn’t like this, so in a strategic retaliation to end the censoring of them, they bought shares in Facebook. This allowed them to attend shareholder meetings and to ask questions of executives.
This was actually a very clever idea on their part, but it is in no way a new idea. Indeed, they’ve purchased shares from companies like Levi, BooHoo, and Louis Vuitton in the past for similar reasons.
But now, with PETA’s involvement with Facebook, policies that previously went un-policed are quickly becoming top-of-mind for the tech giant. Facebook’s official policies have been notoriously obscure and are only really explained in-depth to Facebook employees or legal entities.
Plus, Facebook doesn’t really have a dedicated customer service team, so even if you found and vaguely understood their policies (again, mostly written in a way only a legal team or Facebook employee would understand) there’s no real avenue to get clarification. More recently though, Facebook posted their policies for all of its users to review.
One big policy that PETA’s involvement looks to be affecting is in relation to animal sales and rehoming. Facebook has had a rule against animal sales and rehoming for many years, but until now, many of its users (breeders, rescuers, and animal advocates included) weren’t aware or fearful of it.
That’s quickly changed over the last few months as Facebook’s vendetta against anyone selling, rehoming, or even reposting content with certain key words that remotely resemble animal sales or rehoming, has continued. Not only is Facebook now taking down pages, groups, profiles, Marketplace listings, and even comments. They’re also rejecting fundraisers, which we’ll talk about more in a few minutes.
Another scary thing they’re doing is putting some power in the hands of the typical Facebook user, in the form of a new content-reporting button, like the one below.
With that, it’s no surprise that legitimate and well-known animal breeders, rescues, and even long-time pages/groups are being affected negatively.
Facebook has historically been an outlet for pet owners, breeders, and rescuers alike, and it makes sense why. Facebook is supposed to be a platform where your friends, peers, enemies, and even “frenemies” come together to create an online community. It’s meant to support both the social and business aspects of a user’s life, but in recent months, it’s certainly not living up those standards. The result: Facebook is quickly being abandoned by users – especially animal lovers and those within the pet space.
Let’s take breeders as an example. Breeders often post animals on Facebook. In the past, they’ve posted photos and pricing. This is something they can no longer do.
Legitimate breeders are usually not too pushy, nor do they typically spam. They don’t usually sell on Facebook directly ether, which is what Facebook strictly prohibits. Instead, they opt for a 3rd party service like Paypal or Square, but that makes no difference to Facebook. Although the animals aren’t being sold on the website, just including a picture and a price are enough for them to take content down. In truth, they’re taking pages down left and right as a direct result of the metaphorical pitchfork they’ve handed users (the “report” button).
Now, not all breeders are good, just like not all taco stands are good, but does that really give Facebook the right to censor you or ultimately close your Facebook account down? I don’t think so, and neither do breeders.
I spoke with Scott Poe of Poe’s Pogonas in Corona, California this week, too. He’s a reputable breeder of high-quality Bearded Dragons (a very popular pet). When asked how Facebook’s policies have affected him, he said “It certainly has made it a little challenging to list Dragons as available for sale…”. He goes on to offer Facebook advice, suggesting that they certify vendors on their site to proactively vet through quality breeders who are looking to improve their niche’s gene pool, and not those who are simply looking to make a quick buck.
We agree that, of course, there are bad breeders out there, but putting a blanket policy over an entire niche of business owners is like prohibiting alcohol – it doesn’t work!
If we were to go a little further into this topic, we’d see that Facebook’s stance on policies is actually likely to deter many other business types that don’t sell exactly what Facebook deems to be “appropriate”. Obviously, this type of practice can have a major impact on those types of businesses.
To drive this point home further, ask yourself this: what if Facebook disagreed with the produce or service you provided. Would you be okay with them taking your page down, one you’ve worked hard at and one with a lot of followers? How would you feel if 3rd party users, who are not even Facebook employees, started reporting you based on their own beliefs?
It’s important to note that Facebook does seem to allow you to post if you are a brick and mortar, so pet stores, you may be safe… for now.
The same logic applies to animal rescuers, except that rescues are most often not for profit. Facebook doesn’t discriminate though, so if you do rescue (even as a person and not a group), they’ll treat you exactly the same way as they do for animal sales-related posts. What we know is that this will absolutely crush any attempts to re-home or adopt out animals in need.
There are a growing number of animals in need of homes, many of which will actually be put down at kill shelters if not adopted within a 3-5 day period, and with Facebook’s policies in place, it has essentially banned helping animals and their advocates through their platform.
To understand more clearly, I reached out to Jeff Stewart, one of the founders of Sunshine’s Shoulders Rescue in Tenaha, Texas, about their experience. He and his wife run a rescue out of their home. Stewart, like most other rescues, rely on donations from a few people to help feed and give care to their rescues, and while they have a vet that works with them on their bills, sometimes it’s not enough.
Stewart goes on to say that he used to do Facebook fundraisers, but there were two issues that forced him to stop. First, Facebook takes a cut of any fundraiser on Facebook, so if you’re donating to a charity, just know that all of those funds are not going to the charity of your choice and are, in reality, lining Facebook’s pockets. The second reason they stopped was due to Facebook’s declining of their fundraisers. Stewart said, “The past 3 times we have tried to have a fundraiser I have gotten a message telling me that it goes against community standards.”
He goes on to say that “the new [Facebook] policy also prevents us from finding adoptive homes for any of our animals through the FB platform.”
Due to the issues they’ve encountered with the platform, Stewart can no longer take in rescues. They’re costs for dog food alone are upwards of $500/month and their vet bills can get pretty extreme, too, reaching more than $2000 a times (even with the negotiated pricing from the vet). And it’s no wonder why they have to stop. Without the support from Facebook patrons, they’re paying for all rescue products and services 100% out of their own pocket.
To clarify though, Facebook’s policies surrounding rehoming are pretty vague. They strictly say no to “live animals”, but they don’t draw any conclusive lines as to what that could mean for a legitimate rescue who has paid their dues (literally) to become an official nonprofit organization. However, because the power now lies in the hands of the Facebook user, discretion seems to be up to them as to what they deem inappropriate.
Playing devil’s advocate here, there are many animals in need of homes as a direct result of a lack of regulation when it comes to pet ownership and breeding. I definitely agree that these things need to be monitored and regulated, but by censoring content for both entities, Facebook appears to be taking a very strong stance that they don’t want to be involved at all with animal-related content unless it’s funny, cute, or meme-worthy.
Finally, it’s important to know that although Facebook seems to want you to learn what you’re doing wrong, they definitely don’t act like they do. When a user is reported, Facebook will let you know. If you disagree with their assessment, you can appeal it. However, again, there’s no way (no easy way, at least) to talk to a real person. Often times the reported post will come back to the poster with some kind of vague warning that doesn’t go into details on what they did wrong. That means that even when your posts are taken down, you may have no idea as to why.
At the end of the day, Facebook does have the right to choose which policies to include and which to enforce, but it’s pretty clear that they don’t really have an understanding of how any of this is impacting their users.
I have one tip for Facebook: I invite you to take another look at your policies (as well as who’s supporting them and what their agenda is), reporting capabilities, and education on restrictions when reported and to consider lifting some of the bans on animal-related posts, groups, pages, and ads. It’s affecting the livelihoods of thousands of breeders and rescuers worldwide, as well as in-need animals that desperately need a home.
Note: The author has years of experience with breeding bearded dragons as well as marketing, and has unique insight into the aforementioned online niche.