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A screenshot of the rejected "Road 96" ad. Image: Yoan Fanise/DigixArt

Indie developer Yoan Fanise says Facebook rejected an ad he attempted to post about his road trip video game earlier this summer, citing restrictions on ads over politics, elections and social issues.

Why it matters: The rejection appears to be the result of an overzealous ad filtering system, raising questions about how a social media giant analyzes submitted content.

  • "First, I thought it was a joke," Fanise told Axios.
  • His upcoming game, called "Road 96," is set in the fictional country of Petria and invites players to "flee the regime" on a "risky road trip to the border." Its hook is that players' journeys will play out unpredictably as the game customizes their travels.
  • Fanise's rejected ad makes no overt political references, showcasing images of the virtual road trip while showing phrases such as "escape from a country in turmoil" and "reach the border."

Between the lines: Fanise expected no troubles when an agency he works with attempted to post ads for the game in June.

  • But a rapid rejection hours after submission was followed by a June 28 email from Facebook's ads team that states "some of your ads don’t comply with our Advertising Policy for social issues, electoral or political ads. "
  • The email said the ad "may" have been rejected due to inclusion of real political figures, mentions of elections or "[i]mages, statements or slogans about social issues, such as the economy, environmental policy, or civil and social rights."
  • It posed Fanise with two options: "edit your ad to remove the content or get authorized to run political ads." Fanise did not respond.

The big picture: Fanise says the incident raises questions about freedom of expression online and whether Facebook has the ability to automatically screen text on submitted ads.

  • "I thought about [the movie] 'Minority Report,'" he said. "This is a robot checking in advance what you're going to do and decide for you, no you're not going to do that."
  • Facebook did not provide comment about Fanise's situation nor clarify how such ads are technically screened.
  • Its written ad policy, developed partially in reaction to the spread of political misinformation on its platform, acknowledges that "[o]ur enforcement isn’t perfect, and both machines and people make mistakes."

Go deeper

Dems defend Biden over Afghan withdrawal

A screengrab from a new ad by two pro-Biden entities, VoteVets and Unite the Country.

Deep-pocketed Democratic groups are defending President Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal with a nationwide six-figure ad campaign, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: While the president hasn't wavered from his decision to remove all U.S. troops, the new TV ads indicate even some of his allies see it as a potential vulnerability amid universal Republican criticism and heavy media scrutiny.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

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Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.