Photo courtesy of PETA

A PETA protestor dressed in an elephant costume attempted to reach Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the 2019 Allen & Co. Conference last week to protest Facebook’s censorship of PETA videos on the social media site.

Failed dialogues and an alleged moving line regarding content censorship led PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—to send two employees to the Allen & Co. conference on July 10 to protest Facebook. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was expected to be in attendance.

PETA says Facebook has been increasingly putting graphic content warnings on photos and videos on the organization’s Facebook account due to a blanket policy that PETA says works against its efforts to educate the public on issues of animal cruelty.

According to PETA Vice President of Marketing Joel Bartlett, the organization began taking note of the issue in January 2017, when videos and images depicting animal cruelty began being censored with warning labels and would no longer automatically start playing when a user visited the organization’s social media page.

Bartlett said PETA almost immediately began seeing negative impacts in viewership, limiting its reach to educate the public. He said that over the past two years, Facebook has continued to “move the line” of what is and isn’t acceptable content. Bartlett said that initially, PETA representatives tried to come to an agreement with Facebook to find clear guidelines that they could work within to edit videos to share on the organization’s page that wouldn’t require a warning sign. However, he said the company continues to block content seemingly arbitrarily, making it impossible for PETA to create content for its page.

“It’s hard to keep the video team motivated to create multiple versions of videos,” he said.

The protest last week, caught on video by PETA Associate Director Ashley Byrne, showed a white SUV drive in front of the Sun Valley Lodge and a man dressed in an elephant costume crawl out of the trunk with a sign reading, “Facebook: Stop censoring PETA,” and walk toward the entrance of the Lodge.

Byrne said the elephant costume was chosen to “bring [Zuckerberg’s] attention to the real elephant in the room.” But before the elephant could get through the entrance of the Lodge or reach any Facebook executives, he was escorted out by two security guards. Byrne said they were guests at the Lodge, having stayed there the night before, but that after the guards allowed them to check out, they were issued trespassing warnings by a Sun Valley Police Department officer and told not to return to Sun Valley property.

“We were very aware that reaching Mark or any other executive would be challenging, whether we were in San Francisco or Sun Valley,” Bryne said, but added that she hoped the protest would draw attention to the issue.

“They’re protecting animal abusers,” she said about Facebook.

According to the Facebook’s community standards, listed on its website, “content depicting, admitting, or promoting the following criminal acts committed by you or your associates … acts of physical harm committed against animals except in cases of hunting, fishing, religious sacrifice, or food preparation/processing,” are not to be posted. Bartlett argued that those are “no guidelines that we can operate within,” because PETA’s purpose is to highlight harms inflicted on animals and inform the public, not to be provocative.

“Facebook is being heavy-handed in their approach,” Bartlett said.

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