Facebook’s targeted advertising and algorithms can really mess with your head – like when you’re checking out a pair of shoes online, and they suddenly appear all over your news feed.
Then there’s the really creepy stuff. For women, celebrating your 28th and above birthdays means a constant barrage of wedding and baby adverts, because Facebook assumes things about your life choices.
While the aforementioned examples are a little creepy and annoying, they aren’t life-threatening, whereas the latest Facebook algorithm fail could be.
Facebook has been accused of targeting LGBTQIA+ people with “pray the gay away” type adverts.
The Telegraph reports:
The social media company has removed the posts after the Telegraph exposed a flaw with its micro-targeting algorithm.
LGBT users complained they were confronted with adverts promoting “sexual purity” and conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people because of the pages they have shown an interest in.
When users clicked on the “why am I seeing this ad” button, it revealed that Facebook had noticed that they were interested in gender issues. Companies are able to direct their advertising to users who are most likely to be interested in their products.
This happens through micro-targeting:
Micro-targeting is a type of marketing used by political campaigns, and increasingly advertisers, which uses biographical data about individuals to serve a particular advertisement.
Facebook enables advertisers to choose who their posts are sent to – they can pick the gender, occupation, and age of the targets and fine-tune their adverts to suit the person.
The company has faced criticism in the past for its alleged complicity in allowing advertisers to use data such as the pages people have “liked” in order to build up a picture of their likely sexuality, race or interests.
The practice has been used on social media by political campaigns, such as Obama’s 2012 bid for the presidency, and other companies which want to give a message to a specific demographic.
So while these “products”, like conversion therapy, are technically directed at LGBTQIA+ people, they should also be relocated to the darkest recesses of hell, along with the people who support them:
One lesbian woman was shown a video entitled “Homosexuality Was My Identity”, aimed at promoting “harmful” conversion therapy, because she had ‘liked’ LGBT pages on Facebook.
Tessa Ann Schwarz complained to the company, saying that the video was “really upsetting”, and said: “I don’t know why Facebook has permitted this group to target LGBTQ people, who have intentionally sought out community and education amongst peers, for shaming and hatred masked as love.”
Another advert, which Facebook has now removed, was promoted to young people in the UK who are interested in gender issues. It is a promotion for a book called “Help for men with same-sex attraction” by an evangelical conversion therapist.
A young gay man, Alistair Ryder, said he was “shaken” when he saw it on his feed, telling The Telegraph: “There was nothing overtly homophobic about the ad I saw itself, but it was written in a way to try to appeal to people who may be depressed or self loathing due to their sexuality.
Predatory adverts, such as the one described by Alistair Ryder, target potentially vulnerable young men who might be suffering from mental health issues.
Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Big Brother Watch, has urged Facebook to regulate “aggressive and manipulative” targeted advertising:
“That Facebook not only allowed but profited from such a targeted advert, disguised as an offer of help while preying on young men, especially regarding something as personal as their sexuality, is sickening and truly dystopian.
“Targeted advertising is aggressive and manipulative, using personal and private information to exploit people’s innermost fears, desires and prejudices, therefore it must be restricted to protect people’s rights.”
I agree, Griff. Especially because of the potential harm that practices like conversion therapy can inflict on people:
Paul Twocock, Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research at Stonewall agreed, telling The Telegraph: “This content is offensive and an insidious attempt to undermine the self-esteem of LGBT people seeing this material.
“There’s clear evidence of the damage conversion therapy does to LGBT people’s health and wellbeing, and the British Government are committed to eradicating it in the UK. We urge Facebook to take swift action to remove content advertising the practice.”
Frederike Kaltheuner, the Data Programme Lead for Privacy International said: “Seeing a targeted ad for conversion therapy can clearly causes significant distress. The fact that it has been displayed for weeks shows that the company struggles to enforce and police its own rules. That’s a huge problem.”
The ads contravene Facebook’s policies for advertisers that state that:
Adverts must not engage in predatory advertising practices or contain content that discriminates against, harasses, provokes or disparages people who use Facebook or Instagram.
To this end, the ads have been removed and are no longer running on Facebook.
They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
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