- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2021

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police has launched a petition urging Facebook to reverse its rejection of an advertisement celebrating the association‘s “Most Outstanding Officer of the Year.”

“Facebook evidently believes that honoring a great police officer violates its advertising policy,” said Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the association.

The Silicon Valley tech giant reportedly denied the association‘s request to “boost,” or pay to advertise, a July 21 post praising East Peoria Patrolman Jeffrey Bieber, saying the ad violated company policy.

The rejection comes as Facebook and other social media companies have been removing or restricting content in recent months in an attempt to curtail what they deem to be misinformation on their platforms.

After an appeal and review, the association says the company doubled down and explained that the post was “correctly disapproved for violation of Facebook Advertising Policies and Guidelines.”

“As per policy: 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,” Facebook reportedly said.

“Our policy for running ads related to politics requires you to get authorized first by confirming your identity and creating a disclaimer that lists who is paying for the ads,” Facebook explained.

A Facebook spokesperson further explained in an email Monday that it requires “advertisers to complete our ad authorizations process and create ‘Paid for by’ disclaimers to run social, issue and political ads” and that it “reached out directly to the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police to explain how to run this type of ad.”

The association says it was “flabbergasted” by the disapproval because the post does not reference any politician “and has nothing to do with any election or pending legislation.”

“For Facebook to suggest that seems like a huge stretch and could be a signal that it wants to block good news about police,” Mr. Wojcicki said in a press release. “All we were doing is honoring a brave officer.”

The executive director noted in the petition that the post “did say, correctly, that police officers are subjected to physical and verbal abuse every day on the street, one reason that Bieber is our Officer of the Year.”

The post has information about Mr. Bieber’s policing career, including details about a traffic stop earlier this year during which he was stabbed multiple times by 19-year-old man whom he then fatally shot. The deadly use of force was deemed justified by officials.

It also includes a statement from Mr. Wojcicki, who said the incident “can happen to any officer in any part of Illinois on any day. In fact, officers in Illinois face levels of noncompliance on a daily basis and are victims of physical and verbal violence.”

The association leader says “the way we see it is Facebook thinks it’s wrong to honor a brave police officer who suffered serious wounds while protecting his central Illinois city. How is that remotely political?”

As of Monday afternoon, the online petition created last week on Change.org has received more than 2,200 signatures and its goal is to reach 2,500.

Mr. Wojcicki says Facebook “must not realize” the daily physical and verbal abuse “many” officers face and that the post is meant “to honor an officer who made a great personal sacrifice and to help Americans understand and appreciate the sacrifices that many officers make.”

“We’d like Facebook to understand that by hearing from supporters of this officer and the thousands of good officers in our ranks,” Mr. Wojcicki said.

A former local police chief also sent a letter Sunday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, telling him the post is neither political nor in violation of any company policy.

“I would be extremely disheartened if your staff believes that it is wrong to post comments about a brave police officer who suffered serious injuries while protecting his community in East Peoria, Illinois,” said Tom Weitzel, who previously led the Riverside Police Department.

The retired police chief says he believes Facebook “is being anti-law enforcement with this decision,” which is “very concerning to me personally as well as to many Illinois chiefs.”

Mr. Weitzel told The Washington Times on Monday that the ad denial will hurt police departments that have been struggling to hire new recruits.

“The profession was already suffering major loss in personnel, early retirements and not being able to recruit,” he said. “This decision by Facebook will not help the situation and is 100% wrong!”

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police website states that it was established in 1941 and it currently represents more than 1,200 members.

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