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World News

Catholic charity in dispute with Facebook over sexual violence campaign

by Donna Birrell

A Catholic charity is claiming Facebook censored its ad campaign on sexual violence against religious-minority women and girls.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) alleges the social media platform put severe restrictions on adverts promoting a petition calling on the UK government to step up action to tackle sexual violence against females from minority faiths in countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The charity says the restrictions, which were imposed on 11th November lead to 90 per cent fewer people being aware of the campaign, resulting in a loss of around 7,000 signatures of support. The measures also meant the campaign was not available on Whatsapp or Instagram. 

In a statement to Premier, Facebook - which is now known as Meta -  said payment issues were the cause of the restriction: "We've investigated the issue and discovered there are historical payment issues on the ad account that are impacting spend limits."  

ACN refutes this and says it has provided evidence to show its account is not in arrears. 

The petition was launched ahead of the charity's Hear Her Cries report - published on 24th November - which looks at how in a number of countries Christian girls and women are targeted for abduction and sexual violence by both armed extremists and militant members of the religious communities.

John Newton from ACN told Premier he thinks there was no legitimate reason for the campaign to be restricted. 

"We have been told that the reports would have been for violating the guidelines and policies of Facebook. But we've looked through those guidelines and policies again, and we cannot see a single way in which our advert actually violates a single one of those policies. We did a report looking at women from Christian minorities who are attacked and who suffer this terrible form of violence. I know that there were comments on our adverts that complained that we were specifically focusing on Christian women. But if people read the text, it's fair to say that our petition and our campaign has been looking at all those who are affected. Because our hearts are moved when our brothers and sisters find that their daughters, their sisters, their wives are kidnapped. But equally, it's an injustice when Hindu girls or Sikh girls are kidnapped in Pakistan. The petition was very much about campaigning for all minorities. We hoped that this was a campaign that people could have got behind and could have supported regardless of their religion."

The charity claims Facebook has repeatedly refused to answer its requests to explain how the adverts have violated its guidelines.

"Facebook tell us they're looking into the situation. But more than a month on this still hasn't been resolved. It's almost like banging your head against the wall. In fact, I think if you bang your head against the wall, you get more response than ACN is currently getting out of Facebook."

Aid to the Church in Need (UK) national director Neville Kyrke-Smith said: 

"We are horrified that our campaign which aims to help suffering women has been censored in such a draconian manner.

"Facebook claims to have received complaints from people who objected to the advert - we can understand that the topic is objectionable, but surely that is all the more reason why we need to come together to make a stand against it. By curbing this campaign, they are silencing these women twice over.

"They are silenced when they are seized from their homes and forced to live with their abductors and have now been silenced again by Facebook."

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