After Facebook apparently suppressed a Wyoming military museum’s post about the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday, the platform doubled down by not letting the museum pay to expand the post’s reach, says the museum’s founder.
Dan Starks, founder of the nationally lauded $100 million dollar National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, said he’s still not sure why Facebook has been having issues with the post.
The museum posted a brief essay Nov. 16 titled, “The True Meaning of Thanksgiving.”
It traced the holiday’s origins, saying that Native Americans and other cultures held harvest festivals for various events, but the first official American Thanksgiving Days were sporadic, as Congress issued days of thanks for a military victory in 1777, for the end of the Revolutionary War in 1782, and for the U.S. Constitution in 1789.
The holiday became an annual tradition in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving for the nation to heal its wounds and restore “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union,” the post says. Congress officially enacted the holiday seven years later.
“Our Thanksgiving holiday began as a celebration of American independence and preservation of the U.S. What happened?” the post reads. “Let’s take Thanksgiving back to its roots and use it again today to unite Americans and Honor American Freedom.”
Compared to other posts by the museum, the essay garnered few views and shares, said Starks, adding that viewership was “ridiculously low.”
Normally the reach of posts from the museum number in the hundreds or thousands, he said. This essay only had 12 views within days of its publication, he said.
“What in the world is going on?” asked Starks at a Nov. 21 leadership meeting of museum officials.
Craig Blumenshine, the museum’s communications director, told Starks the museum could pay Facebook $100 to “boost” the post to amplify its viewership.
Starks liked the idea.
Facebook did not. The platform sent an email that day to Blumenshine rejecting the boost request, Blumenshine told Cowboy State Daily..
“Your ad may have been rejected because it mentions politicians or is about sensitive social issues that could influence public opinion, how people vote and may impact the outcome of an election or pending legislation,” reads the email, which Starks forwarded to Cowboy State Daily.
Facebook’s policy is for the museum to confirm its identity and file a disclaimer listing who is paying for the ads, the email concludes.
Blumenshine, in a Monday interview with Cowboy State Daily, characterized Facebook’s email as odd.
“We’ve paid for dozens and dozens of ads, and they have our credit card, so they know who’s posting,” he said. “For some reason this ad was treated differently.”
Neither Starks nor Blumenshine knew what facet or keyword in the Thanksgiving essay displeased the Facebook algorithm, they said.
“They guidance they gave is to rewrite the post, not really identifying what parts of the post their algorithms didn’t care for,” said Blumenshine.
But he and Starks did not choose to rewrite the post.
Blumenshine sent a letter through the mail to get Facebook approval but had received no response as of last week, Starks recalled.
Blumenshine in a Monday text gave an update, saying he received his Facebook code in the mail that day and in turn submitted the code and verifying pictures — and is now waiting for further confirmation.
Starks said it seems absurd for the platform to suppress “just pure historical fact” as if it were inflammatory political rhetoric.
“Yeah, we mentioned politicians, President Washington and President Lincoln. But this is just ridiculous. This is just hostile,” he said. “I get a little suspicious.”
The same post has garnered about 900 views on Twitter. It had normal circulation on Instagram as well, Starks said.
Take Our Concerns Seriously
Also on Nov. 21, the museum published a statement to Facebook and Twitter, condemning Facebook’s ads policy as nontransparent.
“We believe that open communication and transparency are essential for maintaining a user-friendly platform that supports diverse voices and perspectives,” reads the Nov. 21 statement. “We hope that Facebook will take our concerns seriously and work toward improving its ad review process.”
That statement amassed 11,000 views on Twitter. Its Facebook version attracted 38 comments, many of which were from people who were similarly disappointed in Facebook.
“They’re total idiots – & bots half the time,” wrote one commenter.
Up In Dubois
The National Museum of Military Vehicles opened in part in August 2020 and had its grand opening Memorial Day Weekend 2022. The museum has been running Facebook ads since long before its grand opening, about a “couple years,” said Blumenshine.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.