Facebook’s Catholic problem

Facebook’s Catholic problem
The tech giant has a surprisingly long history of suppressing Catholic speech, writes Ian Dunn

Facebook may not be the trendiest platform, but it remains incredibly popular. Every month, more than 3 billion people log in.

The company’s grand mission statement is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Yet, when it comes to Catholics, the tech giant often seems to distance them.

This week, The Irish Catholic fell afoul of Zuckerberg’s team. Two of our posts were accused of breaching ‘hate speech’ and ‘violence and incitement’ community standards.

The first post linked to an article with the headline ‘Priest will continue blessing planes despite airport ban’, published on April 11, and was flagged for potentially violating their standards for violence and incitement.

The second post, with the headline ‘Catholic schools staunch on religious certificate requirements as INTO puts on pressure’, also published in the April 11 edition of the paper, was flagged as potentially contravening their hate speech standards.


It is unclear what exact standards have been breached in either case, but it’s not the first time Catholics have faced challenges on Facebook.

In 2022, the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need ran a campaign on the site, urging the UK government and the UN to help Christian and other minority faith women suffering from sexual violence. However, the social media giant banned the outreach effort.

The restrictions were eventually lifted, but the mystery remained”

The charity says the ban cost the campaign thousands of signatures of support. As the petition has now been submitted to the government, it is too late to resume.

John Newton from the charity told Premier Radio at the time: “We have been battling for two months to get these restrictions lifted, with no clear reason for their imposition.

We had no idea what we were doing wrong and spent nearly two months asking Facebook to address this and explain the restrictions.”

The restrictions were eventually lifted, but the mystery remained.

In 2020, the Facebook page Sancta Familia, the most popular Catholic Facebook page in the UK and Ireland, saw its traffic dwindle during Holy Week. John Patrick Mallon, who runs the page, is certain restrictions were imposed limiting who could see it, but he doesn’t know why.

Scottish Bishop John Keenan of Paisely wrote to Facebook urging them to remove the restrictions, praising the value of the page and stating that restricting it was a threat to religious freedom. The restrictions were lifted, but no explanation was ever given.


Also In 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from lawmakers about his company’s censorship of Catholic content during his two-day congressional hearing. This followed the revelation that millions of Facebook users’ personal data had been compromised.

Zuckerberg apologised and said that the company had “made a mistake” in blocking a Catholic theology degree advertisement by Franciscan University of Steubenville when asked about it by Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The ad, which featured a crucifix, was rejected by Facebook over Easter on the grounds that its content was “excessively violent” and “sensational.” Facebook later apologised, saying the ad had been blocked in error and did not violate terms of service.

“One possibility is that an anti-Catholic group coordinated the reporting of the affected pages as spam, triggering an automatic action on Facebook”

In 2017, dozens of major Catholic pages in English, Spanish, and Portuguese were removed from Facebook simultaneously. They later apologised, but the website Churchpop speculated that the explanation of a spam malfunction was questionable.

“One possibility is that an anti-Catholic group coordinated the reporting of the affected pages as spam, triggering an automatic action on Facebook,” they wrote.

“Or, after being reported, an anti-Catholic Facebook employee in charge of reviewing spam reports took the opportunity to ban the pages.

“Another possibility is that a rogue employee who dislikes the Catholic Church used their authority to ban the pages, and when Facebook discovered it, they reversed the action.”


It’s worth noting that as one of the world’s biggest companies, Facebook has been implicated in numerous scandals, including conducting psychological experiments on its users, illegally selling their data, and failing to prevent its technology from being used to commit genocide and traffic images of child sexual abuse.

Perhaps Catholics should take a bit of persecution from such an organisation as a badge of honour. While the above incidents are troubling, they don’t prove a systematic bias against Catholics. However, they should serve as a reminder that while social media platforms offer opportunities to share the faith, logging on is more likely to incite a near occasion of sin.

In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg travelled to the Vatican and met Pope Francis. Zuckerberg spoke about how much he “admires [the Pope’s] message of mercy and tenderness” and “how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world.”

Given that every incident mentioned in this article occurred after that meeting, it doesn’t seem to have been a turning point for Zuckerberg. The tech mogul presented the Pope with a model of a solar-powered glider, but given Facebook’s increasingly unethical behaviour, perhaps it is Zuckerberg who is flying too close to the sun.