Writer, commentator, and editor Bethany Mandel only wanted to provide alternatives to the woke books being provided to children in school. So she was shocked when Facebook took down her page advertising such alternatives due to “disruptive content.”
“There was no warning,” Mandel says of Facebook’s action. “They told us that our ads were low quality or disruptive content, but they never actually defined what about them was low quality and disruptive content. … This is a wholesome new children’s book [series] that you can buy for your children for Christmas. It couldn’t have gotten less dangerous and more innocuous than our ads. We’re literally just selling children’s books.”
Mandel joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss how Facebook censored her, and the importance of having alternatives to the left’s woke education materials.
We also cover these stories:
- Reps. James Comer, R-Ky., and Ralph Norman, R-S.C., ask D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to drop the city’s vaccine mandate.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell releases a memo predicting Democrats will “try to use fake hysteria to break the Senate and silence millions of Americans’ voices so they can take over elections and ram through their radical agenda.”
- Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, says he will not willingly appear before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Listen the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Bethany Mandel, a contributing writer for Deseret News, editor at Ricochet.com, editor of the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty,” as well as a proud homeschool mom. Bethany, welcome to the show.
Bethany Mandel: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Blair: Of course. We wanted to have you on today to talk about a controversy surrounding that book series that we mentioned at the top, “Heroes of Liberty,” and some censorship from massive social media platform Facebook. For our listeners who haven’t heard about this story, would you be able to give us a rundown?
Mandel: Yeah, absolutely. So, we have a really wonderful wholesome children’s book series called “Heroes of Liberty,” and the books that we have out now are about [former President] Ronald Reagan and [Justice] Amy Coney Barrett and [economist] Thomas Sowell.
We were running some Facebook ads, as you do when you have a small business and you’re trying to make money. And in the days leading up to Christmas, we got a message from Facebook that we were in violation of their policies and guidelines.
And we received a warning and we responded to the warning and asked, “How exactly are we in contempt of your rules?” And then we received another message back, “All right, that was your last strike. You’re done. You’re cut off from the platform forever.”
So we weren’t able to access to post additional posts on our Facebook and our Instagram. And we weren’t able to run ads anymore. So in the lead-up to Christmas, that’s a really big deal for a business. And moving forward, that’s also a really big deal. So we were able to make a stink about it.
We had the contact information for a Fox Business reporter named Tyler O’Neil and he wrote a story about it and it blew up. And members of Congress became involved publicly and privately with Facebook. And eventually, we were able to regain access to our ads account only because Congress literally intervened on our behalf.
Blair: You mentioned Congress literally intervened on your behalf, how did they do that?
Mandel: [Sen.] Ted Cruz publicly tweeted, “This is ridiculous overreach.” The GOP Judiciary account, [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy did the same. He retweeted my thread about what happened. And privately, several offices also reached out to their lobbyists at Facebook and a combination of public pressure and private pressure both from the media, but mostly, probably, we think, from Congress finally did it and they unfroze us.
Blair: So it sounds like in this story that they really didn’t give you a reason why this was removed. It sounds like they just took it down.
Mandel: Yeah, yeah. And there was no warning. They told us that our ads were low quality or disruptive content, but they never actually defined what about them was low quality and disruptive content.
And our ads were just, “This is a wholesome new children’s book [series] that you can buy for your children for Christmas.” It couldn’t have gotten less dangerous and more innocuous than our ads, we’re literally just selling children’s books. And they’re not political. They’re just wholesome biographies about heroes of our past and our present, honestly, as well.
Blair: Now, when they reinstated it, did they give an explanation to say it was a mistake? I know that happens sometimes with a lot of conservative pages where Twitter or Facebook will take down a page and then due to public pressure, they’ll say, “Oops, it was a mistake,” or, “We didn’t mean to do that.” Is that what happened here?
Mandel: Yes, that’s exactly what happened here. They said, “Our mistake, sorry.” And all these mistakes tend to go in one direction and one direction only. While our children’s book about Ronald Reagan was being banned from advertising on Facebook, you could look at advertising about a Scholastic book on Che Guevara.
And that’s exactly why we started “Heroes of Liberty,” because the children’s book industry is overrun by wokeness. And there are any number of children’s biographies about Che Guevara or [the late Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but there are none about Ronald Reagan and Amy Coney Barrett. So that was the hole in the marketplace that we saw and that we fill and we wanted to fill. But all of those ads for “the other side” were still up.
Blair: Now, I have noticed that. Are there any other circumstances that you maybe pointed to when you were talking with Facebook of, “Hey, this series of books is just fine, our series of books is something similar, why the double standard here?”
Mandel: So, we got no answers. We got absolutely no answers. All we were told is it was a mistake. And so we don’t know what the double standard is, but we do know what the double standard is. But we never got anything resembling an actual explanation.
Blair: Now, when the advertising went down, obviously, that must have affected the business. You mentioned a little bit that this affected how your bottom line was. So what were some of the consequences immediately after Facebook took this action?
Mandel: Our sales dropped. So it’s hard to put a number on it for us because it was one week, but I was contacted by another small business called Bring Ammo Apparel. And he shared with me screenshots from his Shopify account. And he was running ads in April 2020 and then they were shut off in May 2020. And the difference in his income was in May 2020, it was one-fourteenth his income in April, just absolute massive drop. One-fourteenth. So we anticipate that our bottom line would’ve been probably similarly affected.
Blair: So one of the things that is really striking me as you’re going through this process of discussing that social media censored your work, again, this is something that happens on one side of the aisle almost exclusively. Do you think that there’s a reason why specifically conservative work is targeted on social media? Or is it just, again, like they say, an accident?
Mandel: I mean, I think I’m not of the mind that it’s this giant nefarious woke plot to take over America. I think it’s a little bit more subtle than that. And in a way, it makes it even more insidious.
So, what we think happened was our ads appeared in the news feeds and we had people reporting our ads. And we know that people didn’t love our ads because we saw comments calling Ronald Reagan a fascist and a war criminal. And we think that those reports landed on the table of folks at Facebook and … their worldview matched the worldview of those who were reporting the content. And so that’s what happens when everyone thinks the same thing.
Blair: I want to talk a little bit more about these books, period. What made you want to create these books in the first place? I know you mentioned that this was a result of what you view as a woke takeover of education, but was there anything else that drove you to create these books?
Mandel: Yeah. I mean, we saw that there was a hole in the marketplace and that there were a lot of books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but not about Amy Coney Barrett. And in the schools, we know the battle that we have, but a lot of parents are not really aware of the battle that is taking place in children’s literature.
Last night, I spoke to a children’s book author. She writes middle age, so between 8 and 12. And she told me it’s next to impossible to publish a book without some intersectionality or gender conversation. She keeps on getting comments back from her editors about race and about gender. And this is the situation in children’s literature.
So we knew that that was the case. And we just wanted to create wholesome quality content. And biographies are a wonderful way for kids to connect with the past and connect with individuals in the past.
There’s a theory in children’s literature called mirrors and windows. And the ultimate goal as a children’s book writer is to have a mirror where kids can see themselves in characters and then a window where they can see this is who you could be.
And when you write a children’s biography, it’s very easy to do that because, for example, with the Amy Coney Barrett book, I have an 8-year-old daughter and she’s the oldest of my five children. And so the Amy Coney Barrett book, they talk about how she’s the oldest of her family and dealing with little siblings, which I think a lot of kids, even not in a big family, can commiserate with. So kids can see themselves in the early origin stories of Amy Coney Barrett.
And then moving along, she’s obviously extremely successful. But the special thing about the Amy Coney Barrett book is that she isn’t just a Supreme Court justice, she’s also a mom. And that’s not a message that young girls are getting now, that you can be a mom and successful. And I think that there’s a lot of moving parts to the fertility crisis, but that’s definitely one of them.
Blair: I do think it’s interesting, the intersectionality angle that you briefly mentioned. Looking at some of the people that are highlighted in this series, you have people like Thomas Sowell, who is a black man; you have Amy Coney Barrett, who is a woman; you have Ronald Reagan, obviously, who would be a white man, but he’s also very inspirational; how do you pick some of these people who get the books as you’re looking through all these heroes of liberty?
Mandel: Yeah. I mean, that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to showcase all of these varied people. … Kids might not be familiar with Thomas Sowell. And there are these underlying morals and lessons in their life stories about things like [critical race theory] and affirmative action, and that’s definitely one of the underlying unspoken themes in the Thomas Sowell book, for sure.
Blair: What has been the response from some of the parents that you’ve been talking to who have been reading your books?
Mandel: They’re big fans. I think it’s funny, you don’t realize what you didn’t have until you have it. And so they’re like, “Oh, wow. This is really great. We didn’t realize that we wanted a book about Thomas Sowell for my 8-year-old. But wow, now that we do … ”
And people are giving us their wish lists of the next books they want us to do. And we’re doing more books. John Wayne is coming out in February and we’ll have Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and Alexander Hamilton. And we’ll plan on doing a book a month moving forward. And I think people have realized that this was something that was missing from their bookshelves.
Blair: How long do you plan on keeping this series alive? Is this as many people as you can find, as long as you can? Or is there an end date?
Mandel: No, there’s no end date. I mean, thank God we’ve had a ton of support. We’ve sold tens of thousands of books since we launched in November and tens of thousands of books since this Facebook thing happened. So we have a lot of support.
I think that people realize that this is a really important product and they want it on their bookshelves and they want to read these to their children every night before bedtime. So the plan is indefinitely. We have no end date. As long as we have people who buy into our mission, which is half of America, we’ll keep on writing them.
Blair: That’s an interesting point you actually just made. Since the Facebook thing, you’ve probably seen a bump in business. Have you noticed that a lot of people are coming to your aid as it looks like social media is trying to censor you?
Mandel: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s beautiful. I tweeted a picture, I think it was yesterday, and I put it on my Instagram also, just an absolute massive pile of books that were going out because of the Facebook thing. And because people, they want to send a message: “We will not be silenced and you are not the majority, and you cannot determine a business’ success or failure, Big Tech.”
Blair: Absolutely. One of the final things I would like to talk about this book before I’d like to go into education a little bit more, what are some of the messages that you would hope children reading these books would take away from them? I know you mentioned the window and the mirror theory about education, but are there certain messages you would hope that the children reading these books would take away?
Mandel: Yeah. I mean, the special thing about these books is that every book has a different message. And so the Ronald Reagan book is really just a story about the kindest president we’ve ever had and how to stand up in the face of evil, the evil in that case being communism.
And Thomas Sowell, it’s about lifting yourself up by your bootstraps and not expecting anything from anyone and how incredibly successful you can be in so doing. And the Amy Coney Barrett book is a book about motherhood and about a large family.
And these are messages that kids aren’t getting anymore. So those are the messages we want kids to get.
And for the John Wayne book coming out in February, there’s so much conversation about toxic masculinity. And we want to tell kids about the fact that masculinity isn’t toxic, that it’s honorable to be a man of honor. And that’s not a message that boys are getting and it’s not a message that girls are getting about their future husbands. And there’s so much societal rot. And I think this is our attempt to fix that.
Blair: Shifting gears to education, we’ve discussed briefly how wokeness has infiltrated the education system. How bad do you think the woke takeover of education has become?
Mandel: It’s catastrophic. I’m working on a separate project at the moment about this, actually. And I spoke to this middle-grade author the other day, and she said it’s not just the curriculum which you have access to, but they’re introducing these books about gender and about transsexual and transgender and intersectionality to kids when it’s just a reading lesson.
So they’ll introduce these books about a transgender child, and they’ll say, “This is how to begin a sentence and this is how to end a sentence.” And it really normalizes this concept for kids because they’re not learning about it as a topic, they’re just learning about it over the course of a grammar lesson.
And these are the just really insidious ways that librarians in schools and teachers in schools and everyone in schools are just trying to introduce these topics whenever and wherever possible.
Blair: Now, we mentioned at the top that you proudly homeschool your children. You are a proud homeschool mom. Did the wokeness in schools contribute to that decision?
Mandel: It didn’t actually because we would send our kids to private Jewish schools. But what’s scary is that private Jewish schools are being infected by this as well. And that’s not something that even I could have foreseen when we started homeschooling several years ago. But it’s everywhere. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that it’s not.
Blair: Now, I guess that comes to the obvious question, is this something that can be countered? Can we reclaim schools and education from the woke left? Or should we basically say, “Let’s just focus on teaching our own children at home the values that we want them to learn”?
Mandel: I don’t think we can give up because, I mean, I’m not giving up. I homeschool my children and I understand that the kids that are going to these woke schools are going to be the kids that my kids are dating and working with in 20 years. So giving up is not an option. But for parents who are at home, there’s a lot of things that you can do to counter it, depending on your own personal circumstances.
But one of the things that we really loved about doing “Heroes of Liberty” was that 15 minutes a day right at bedtime, you can have the last word with your kids. And it’s not the teachers, it’s the parents. And that’s the stuff that parents need to do in any number of ways. And a children’s book at bedtime is one way, but this is a fight and it’s a fight that has to be fought.
Blair: Now, as we begin to wrap-up here, do you believe that this is a fight that we are currently winning? Is there any more work that we need to be doing? Or how are we doing?
Mandel: I think that we don’t even understand the level of rot in our society on this stuff. So, I mean, to keep coming back to children’s literature, because this is something that I’ve become really invested in personally and professionally, obviously, the level of wokeness in children’s literature is just immeasurable. Agents won’t take a book unless it has a gay or transgender character.
A different author than the one I was just talking to told me that she pitched a book, again, for middle ages, between the ages of 8 and 12. She pitched a book to her agent about a World War II character. And she wanted to tell the story of young girls surviving in the middle of the war. And her agent came back to her and said, “There’s only one way I can sell this and it’s if one of your characters is a lesbian or transgender.”
And she was like, “But it’s set in World War II in Berlin, that’s not appropriate for this scene.” And her agent said, “This is the situation. This is what it is. That’s the only thing.”
And so those books are getting published. And so kids are growing up with this belief that all of these very modern, very not normal things have been the reality through all of human history when that’s just not the case.
It’s a mass brainwashing operation, and it’s in children’s literature, it’s in the movies that they watch, and the TV shows that they watch, and the commercials during those TV shows, and the schools that they go to, and it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere you turn. It is there.
Blair: Now, one final question before we finish up here, we already discussed briefly the capacity to read to your children before they go to bed as something that we can do as conservatives who are concerned about what our children are learning in school and from the culture at large, do you have any other suggestions for parents who are maybe listening to this who say, “How do I keep my child from being exposed to all of this?”
Mandel: Yeah. What I’m about to suggest is not feasible for a lot of people, and it’s not completely feasible, but I would recommend, before your kids take a book out of the library, look up the Amazon reviews and look at the one-star reviews and see what people are saying. You can catch a lot of stuff that way. The same, there’s a group called Common Sense Media. And you look at what they say about books and TV shows.
And the older, the better. So, we own DVDs of “Sesame Street” from the ’80s because you know that those are more or less safe. And “Boy Meets World” and all those shows that my generation grew up with are more or less safe. And so you can buy used books and buy old TV series and movies. And my kids right now, as we’re recording this, are watching “Richie Rich,” I don’t know if you remember that movie.
Blair: Oh, I love “Richie Rich.”
Mandel: Yeah, me too. That’s their sixth time watching it. So, “Home Alone,” “Richie Rich,” all of these movies before Macaulay Culkin grew up are generally pretty safe. But, yeah.
And then also ask your kids’ teachers, “What books are you using in the classroom?” Not just, “What are you teaching?” But, “What books are you using?”
And COVID has been a little bit of a blessing and a curse because we can see on Zoom what they were teaching when they were doing distanced learning. But now, the classrooms are literally closed to parents and they can’t just walk in and look at what’s on the library bookshelves in schools because they’re closed for COVID reasons.
So I would just keep on asking questions and keep on talking to your children, and read to them and talk to them and maintain a dialogue about what are they reading and what are they hearing and what are they being told.
Blair: That was Bethany Mandel, a contributing writer for Deseret News and editor at Ricochet.com, editor of the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty,” as well as a proud homeschool mom. You can find those books we discussed on the show, “Heroes of Liberty,” at heroesofliberty.com.
Bethany, thank you so much for your time.
Mandel: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
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