Facebook rejects ads for traditional Inuit knives, calling them ‘weapons’

Kenneth Mackay, an Inuk and Scottish artist in Yellowknife, makes and sells uluit from discarded items like scrap saw blades and wood. (Urban Inuk/Facebook)
An artist in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories says Facebook is culturally discriminating against Inuit after the site rejected his ads selling uluit, the plural of ulu, a traditional Inuit knife.

Kenneth Ingniqjuk Mackay, who is Inuk and Scottish, makes and sells uluit from discarded items such as scrap saw blades and wood.

Buying ads on Facebook is a convenient and effective way to sell them, he said.

He’d been advertising them for two months without issue when Facebook rejected one of his paid ads on May 4. A notification said it violated Facebook’s advertising policy that prohibits the sale of weapons on the social media site.

“I was surprised. Like, it’s a tool for food and sewing,” Mackay said, noting he’s seen lots of ads on Facebook for kitchen knives.

Mackay took to social media to air his frustrations after Facebook rejected one of his ads selling uluit. The issue has since gotten traction with #freetheulu. (Urban Inuk/Facebook)

Mackay immediately requested a review of the ban and took to social media to air his frustrations.

“Calling it a weapon is cultural prejudice,” he wrote in a Facebook post on May 5. “It has never, ever been made or promoted as a weapon.”

That post has since been shared more than 1,000 times and garnered more than 200 comments. The issue has also gained traction on other social media platforms with #freetheulu.

Two days after requesting the review, Mackay said Facebook concluded his ad didn’t violate its policies and it was approved. But he said there were only 40 minutes remaining before the ad expired and he wasn’t reimbursed for the cost.

“I’ve had a lot of great support, which has been really great, but Facebook hasn’t gotten the message, apparently,” Mackay said.

A few days later, he said another one of his ads was rejected.

“It’s been really frustrating. I don’t know why they just keep banning it and declining the ads,” he said.

“It definitely feels like cultural discrimination. Like, it feels weird when our everyday clothing and tools are regularly flagged as something that violates community standards. All around, it doesn’t feel very good.”

Facebook apologizes

According to Facebook, all ads are reviewed before they can run on the site. Facebook enforces its advertising policies through a combination of automated and manual reviews of text, photos and landing pages where ads lead. But the site’s review process isn’t perfect.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Facebook said Mackay’s ad was rejected in error.

“We recognize the deep importance of [uluit] to Inuit communities and want to clarify that products like the one the seller posted are allowed for sale on our platform.” the email reads.

“We apologize for the mistake and value the feedback that helped us identify and correct it as quickly as possible.”

Mackay says Facebook is a convenient way to sell his work, and he’d like the site to do a better job of reviewing posts featuring work by Inuit. (Urban Inuk/Facebook)

This is not the first time Facebook has come under fire for banning posts by Inuit selling culturally significant items.

In 2017, some northerners expressed frustration after Facebook removed posts featuring sealskin crafts, with the same issue recurring in January 2019.

Facebook apologized on both occasions and said the posts were removed by mistake.

Mackay said he’d like to see the platform do a better job of reviewing ads for cultural Inuit items.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: ‘Inuit space explorer, exploring alternate worlds’ in sealskin space suit art project, CBC News

Finland: Sámi school preserves reindeer herders’ heritage with help of internet, Cryopolitics Blog

United States: Can traditional Alaska Native foods be sold? A clash of legal, cultural opinions, Alaska Dispatch News

Emily Blake, CBC News

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