Film and TV

Facebook Thinks the Flatirons Food Film Festival Is a Russian Agent

The Flatirons Food Film Festival will screen Eating Animals on October 14.
The Flatirons Food Film Festival will screen Eating Animals on October 14. Still from Eating Animals
Facebook's recent troubles with Russian election tampering are having repercussions in Boulder's food and film community. The Flatirons Food Film Festival, which runs from October 11 through October 14 at various Boulder venues, ran afoul of the social media giant's overzealous attempts to police its own cyberspace when festival organizers attempted to run a Facebook ad for one of its films.

Eating Animals is a documentary from director Christopher Quinn about the problems with modern industrial agriculture and the ethical dilemmas of eating meat. While the topic is certainly politically charged, there's nothing specific about either the film's content or the film festival itself that screams "fake news." Still, according to festival founder and organizer Julia Joun, her attempt to create an advertisement for the October 14 screening of Eating Animals was delayed by a Facebook policy.

When Joun attempted to launch her ad, she received notification from Facebook that she would need to receive authorization for ad content "related to politics and issues of national importance." That authorization can take two to four weeks, by which time the film festival would be over.

"In other words, they need to know that we are a valid page and not a foreign operative," Joun says.

Last year, Facebook announced a policy change that the company thought would help users identify political ads. Here's a description of the policy that the company released in May:

Last October, we announced that only authorized advertisers will be able to run electoral ads on Facebook or Instagram. And today, we’re extending that requirement to anyone that wants to show “issue ads” — like political topics that are being debated across the country. We are working with third parties to develop a list of key issues, which we will refine over time. To get authorized by Facebook, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location. Advertisers will be prohibited from running political ads — electoral or issue-based — until they are authorized.

So apparently a movie that investigates industrial farms for potential animal abuses could fall into the same category as a paid endorsement or criticism of a political candidate or election issue.

"I don't think that I would have thought that it would ever apply to us," Joun adds. "Rather than not promote this film with an ad, I am disputing this with a real human."

The good news is that while Facebook can stall or block the ad, it can't do anything about the screening itself or a day of events planned around the film. They begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, October 14, with a tour of Cure Organic Farm in Boulder County, and continue with an Eating Animals brunch at River and Woods, then the screening of the film at 3:30 p.m. at Muenzinger Auditorium on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. Christie A. Zimmerman of Natural Grocers will introduce the movie, and beekeeper Tim Brod of Highland Honey Bees will lead a Q&A. Afterward, Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers will lead a panel discussion with local food producers Jill Skokan, Katie Belle Miller and Paul Willis.

Don't wait for a Facebook ad to get the festival news: See the complete schedule of films and events on the Flatirons Food Film Festival website.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation