Facebook blocks Road 96 ad for being 'political messaging'

Road 96 developer Yoan Fanise has told Axios that Facebook rejected an advertisement for his team's upcoming game, on the grounds it contained "political messaging."

Road 96 developer Yoan Fanise has told Axios that Facebook rejected an advertisement for his team's upcoming game, on the grounds it contained "political messaging."

Road 96, developed by Digixart, is a procedural narrative game that casts players as a teenager trying to escape the fictional country of Petria. The player's goal is to "flee the regime" on a "risky road trip to the border," which is certainly a politically-inspired theme for a game, though it does not refer outright to real-world political events.

According to Fanise, the ad agency working with Digixart submitted its advertisements for the game through Facebook's approval process, and then received a form rejection. Facebook's ads team followed up with a message stating "some of your ads don’t comply with our Advertising Policy for social issues, electoral or political ads."

Ads for the game did contain the phrases "escape from a country in turmoil" and "reach the border," but it's unclear why a Facebook representative didn't take a look at the game and realize it was a work of fiction. Fanise said they were given the option to edit the advertisement or ask for approval to run political advertisements. 

Fanise said the incident raises concerns of Facebook's power over free speech. The incident also seems to be a depressing indicator of what tech employees are trained to deem as "political."

It's not unfair to describe Road 96 as a politically-inspired game, though a border conflict and tyrannic regime aren't all the team has advertised about the game. It's also a hitchhiking game, filled with new friends, dangerous serial killers, concerts, and other random events.

Meanwhile Facebook runs ads for games like Call of Duty, which are definitely also political, without batting an eye.

If Facebook's core objection here was the phrase "reach the border," it's a possible indication that Facebook's wariness over United States border politics has led it to be overzealous about rejecting advertisements that might even hint at any position about crossing the country's southernmost border.

But that would make Road 96 only a side victim of a larger decision to politicize the way the U.S. has restricted crossings to and from Mexico. If Facebook has any issues with ads mentioning "crossing the border," that may be for immigration lawyers, vacation services, or even other works of art about crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, it's placing a lot of restrictions on people whose lives are impacted by polices restricting movement on said border every single day.

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