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The Inhumanity of Facebook’s Ad Algorithm

Published: November 3, 2014

Author: Todd Mintz


Most of the Facebook Direct Messages I receive tend to be from “women” who seem to be interested in getting to know me a lot better. There are several problems with this:
1)     I’m happily married.
2)     I’ve seen “Catfish”.
3)     Those “women” aren’t who they claim to be (and likely aren’t even “women”).
4)     The messages violate Facebook TOS and I always report them.
However, this morning, I received a message from an actual Facebook Friend that definitely shook me up. With permission, I’m sharing our exchange:
Todd, I have noticed from various posts that you are pretty experienced with Facebook targeting. Here is the background and the question… I went to a dear friends memorial yesterday for his wife who died after fighting breast cancer for 10 years…this morning he received a sponsored post from <name redacted> urging him to compost his loved ones and give one last time. This was upsetting to him for obvious reasons. As my friend is heartbroken and is suicidal…this was not good. I tracked down the person who posted this advertisement and they said it was “impossible ” to avoid this as there was no way to set up Facebook targeting so that this advertisement does not go to someone who recently had a death of a spouse or other loved one. That this was an unfortunate circumstance. While I generally think their approach is ineffective I don’t think their advertisement would be offensive if it were not for this scenario. Is there any way to adjust this targeting? I am just curious.
–        4 hours ago
<name redacted>…I have to agree with what the advertiser is saying…your friend is definitely within the advertiser’s target and the fact that he’s going through a bad time isn’t going to be part of any sort of ad algorithm. Because Facebook is an ad sponsored platform, the targeting can’t be adjusted though you can dismiss the individual ad by clicking the “I don’t want to see this” choice. I assume that your friend is using Facebook as a source of solace and it’s terrible that he has to see this.
Over the years, I’ve seen several tragedies involving death or suicide play out amongst Facebook friends, and I continue to see my friend Dana Lookadoo experience horrible challenges as she recovers from her bad accident. Clearly, I’m focused on the story that’s being told within the Facebook narrative but for the first time, I’ve now begun to think:
What ads are being shown to people going through tragedies? Does Facebook show any ad restraint to those that are grieving? It seems like they might not be.
Your move Facebook…

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