The robots at
always urge me to “boost my post.” This sounds kinky, but it’s Zuckerspeak for buying advertising. I’ve avoided these offers because I’m no computer genius. For me, high-tech is writing down my password somewhere.
But then I kept seeing ads for
Yossi Klein Halevi’s
new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.” I have a book coming out called “The Virtue of Nationalism.” Like a knucklehead, I figured if Yossi could boost his post, so could I.
I pressed “Boost Post.” Soon thousands of people were seeing my ad, and I was psychotically checking the click count every four minutes. “Your ad is doing better than most promotions on Facebook,” the robots flattered me. I was like Fast Eddie playing big-time pool. How could I lose?
It lasted two weeks. Then a red announcement appeared: “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.” My boost was now stamped with a verdict in red letters: “Rejected.”
I found a window for submitting appeals. “My book is concerned with the historical development of the nation-state and the case for preferring it to imperialism,” I groveled. I offered to send the robots a copy so they could see for themselves.
Facebook’s sentient programs don’t wear dark glasses or have menacing names like Agent Smith. A response came from “Veronica”: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political, based on the definition we’re using for enforcement,” it said. “You must authorize your page to run political ads.”
Me? Run political ads? I scoured Facebook’s definitions, which said “political content” is support for candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation. “Dear Veronica,” I pleaded. “I don’t see anything in the ad that qualifies as ‘political’ based on Facebook’s definition. Could you specify which aspects of the ad qualify as ‘political’?”
A reply came from “Sol”: “The text and/or imagery you’re using qualifies as political.”
A friend put me in touch with a Morpheus-like figure struggling to liberate mankind from Facebook. “You’re not alone,” he said. “Even major media like the New York Times and small businesses that aren’t political are being told to register.”
I figured if the Times could register, so could I. For days I answered the robots’ questions and uploaded personal documents. Finally, they mailed me a paper letter with a secret code. I entered it. The robots were pleased: “You’re all set. When the Page admin has completed the next step you’ll be able to run ads.”
Who was “the Page admin”? What “next step” was it contemplating? I recruited a computer-genius friend to help. He spent days hacking through the Zuckerspeak. After a dozen runs, the robots issued a green check-mark saying I’d “linked my ad accounts” (to the mother ship, I believe).
Ads with political content were “approved.” I was in. I brought up the ad and clicked “Boost Post.” The robots replied: “Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.”
After 10 weeks, I have no ads. But I’m left with a question, like a splinter in my mind, driving me mad: Did Facebook get its “political ads” policy from Monty Python, while outsourcing customer service to HAL from “2001”? Or is it simply unwilling to run ads for a book about the virtue of nationalism?
Mr. Hazony is author of “The Virtue of Nationalism,” out Sept. 4 from Basic.
Appeared in the July 26, 2018, print edition.