Facebook might seem like a goliath, but pressure from the vaping community recently got them to reverse a decision to censor vaping film A Billion Lives. Director Aaron Biebert told us what happened.
First could you tell us a little bit about the film?
A billion people are projected to die this century from smoking. Despite those sort of sobering predictions, the status quo is being preserved in very corrupt ways. Despite nearly all scientists acknowledging that vaping and snus are healthier than smoking, there is a clear and concerted effort to demonize them. Why?
Our film answers that question.
The film focuses on the history of vaping and the system of corruption that is lined up against it. More specifically, we investigate government failure, Big Pharma, Big Charity, and how money is involved. We’ll also clear up the health related misinformation that is being spread around.
We’re making this film for the general public. Interviews for the film consist primarily of doctors, scientists, and health leaders from 5 continents. There are also interviews with some of the early vaping industry pioneers, including Hon Lik.
When did you start promoting it?
We’ve been promoting the film since May, when we began filming in Peru.
When did Facebook censor your ads?
Facebook blocked us from “boosting” three of our posts in a row this week.
When we inquired why the first one was blocked, they responded by informing us they did not allow advertising of tobacco products. Obviously we are a film, so we responded with an explanation to them, assuming they would fix the situation. They did not. Instead, they sent back an email telling us that our ad was against their advertising policies and their decision was final.
The post we were boosting was a West Virginia sunset. It made no sense.
How important were the ads for you – was this more a matter of principle for you than the need to promote via ads?
Facebook has this program called Edgerank, which decides what posts show up in Facebook user’s news feeds. Unfortunately, non-personal pages like ours are penalized and do not show up in many news feeds unless we pay to boost them. Essentially, if you don’t pay, you won’t be seen. This diminishes our community and makes it harder for our actual supporters to see our updates.
What happened next?
We were understandably upset, so we sent out a whiny tweet in protest.
It was retweeted 100 times and many people were reporting that they’ve had similar issues when posting about advocacy or events. I knew we had to do something, so I wrote that letter and updated our email subscriber list about the situation.
There was mass outrage. The letter was shared almost 700 times and was seen by nearly 50,000 people. The announcement video was shared in protest nearly 1000 more times. People were angry. We were all angry.
Why do you think Facebook backed down? Do you have any idea who was behind the decision?
Facebook chose to change their minds because of the noise the community was making. We also were dealing with someone higher up, who had more sense. They are a big company and are not interested in picking fights. Plus, this fight made no sense. Rather than fight a losing battle, they chose to approve all our posts and make changes to how they handled future posts.
We did have a lady reach out to us and she was very helpful.
I get the feeling that Facebook’s decision not to allow ads probably backfired, and that you may have got more publicity from the decision than from the FB ads themselves. Was that the case?
Thankfully, the fight did wake a lot of people up. To get that kind of attention, we would have had to pay thousands of dollars to Facebook. So, yes, they definitely missed out.
Finally, when and where can we see the film?
The film will be done by the end of the year. It will premiere in early 2016, be in theaters mid 2016, and be out on DVD/streaming/etc in fall 2016. We’ll keep everyone posted as dates are confirmed. We’re very excited.