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What’s political?

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare must have been surprised when social media giant Facebook rejected 14 of their ads, having to do with health care.

Such a denial sounds ridiculous on its face. But – and to be clear, this is in no way the fault of the department – the case is more complicated than that, and so is the surrounding issue, as the nature of our society and the role politics plays in it makes the situation complicated indeed.

And, in this time of off-season elections coming up and a big and maybe horrendous political season coming up, may point to more serious and deeper problems we need to confront.

The ads are the very model of inoffensive – or at least you’d think they would be – featuring pictures of babies or their families, with the subject matter involving ensuring their health.

More directly, they concern vaccinations; a standard tag line says, “Receiving the full number of recommended childhood vaccine doses helps protect children from vaccine preventable diseases.” The ads, in the form of Facebook posts, advise a visit to the department’s web site on the subject (immunizeidaho.com). There’s nothing unusual or particularly groundbreaking about them.

But, as the Daily Beast website reported last week, “Facebook promised to institute a stricter policy on anti-vaccination misinformation in ads back in February, a policy it expanded sitewide in March. That crackdown, however, appears to be penalizing some legitimate healthcare providers while letting some anti-vaccine conspiracies slide, even as the United States faces its largest outbreak of diseases preventable by vaccines in decades.”

Facebook spiked the ads, seemingly with the point of combatting vaccine misinformation from unreliable sources. Other reputable sources, like the Minnesota Hospital Association, also saw their Facebook ads killed. This, while ads from conspiracy theory sites like vaccineholocaust.com were approved.

The Idaho department figured, reasonably, that it simply got snared in Facebook’s algorithm, and has contacted the organization to get the ads reinstated.

Jump ahead to this month, when Twitter, doubtless watching closely growing criticism about online political advertising and posting practices – allowing for massive quantities of misinformation, especially in the runup to next year’s presidential election – says it is banning political advertising, period.

Which could amount to quite a lot of territory.

In our society, now, almost everything is political. Many people, observing a person walking down the street or checking out at a grocery store, may mentally slap on them a label of pro- or anti-Trump. Politics has always been a part of our lives; now it seems to have infested everything.

An ad about vaccination featuring a picture of a smiling baby? You bet that, these days, can be considered political. Granted that the vaccination debate – as anti-vaxxers continue to stay visible – straddles all sorts of otherwise normal ideological lines. It is a highly sticky political issue.

And so is much else. What vehicle you drive, where you dine – almost everything is political now. Where will the line be drawn when political advertising is banned? How can anyone be sure one side will be advantaged, or damaged, by the way those sides are drawn?

How, among other things, can a public health agency spread word about health problems and solutions?

Happy election season, ending for some cities and issues on Tuesday. The next election season awaits.
 

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