Big Tech Problems Part 1 – Facebook

Facebook is a great marketing tool. However, sometimes I wonder if the tech giant might be getting a little too big for their britches (as my Mother used to say).

In this newsletter, I’ll give describe something that happened to us on July 3rd. If you are on Facebook, you need to read this.

One of the services we provide our clients is to manage their Facebook presence, including regular social posts and advertising campaigns. Earlier this year, we shifted our focus to emphasize advertising campaigns for reasons discussed in a previous newsletter.

When you post something on Facebook, there are very few restrictions. However, whenever you boost a post or create a full-fledged ad campaign, Facebook runs your ad through an Artificial Intelligence-powered review process.

Every 4th of July we create a patriotic ad campaign for our clients. It’s typically a series of three or four ads, all branded with the client’s logo. On July 3rd, we created an ad with a picture of the American flag and the phrase “America is a tune. It must be sung together.” which is a quote from Gerald Stanley Lee.

For 20+ clients, the ad was approved, but for one client, it was rejected. Here’s the reason provided by Facebook’s AI system.

“Your ad may have been rejected because it mentions politicians or is about sensitive social issues that could influence public opinion, how people vote and may impact the outcome of an election or pending legislation.”

“Sensitive social issue”!!! It’s a flag, for goodness sake!!!

Over twenty ads were approved, and only one was rejected. The only difference was a small logo. We requested a second review cycle, and it was denied again.

I was going to chalk it up to just an AI glitch, but Andy Tallent, my social media manager, pointed out something.

Each ad was submitted to run in the client’s local market. The only market where the ad was rejected happened to be a very liberal community.

So does this mean Facebook’s AI review process is making different decisions based upon the demographics of your community?

If that’s true, Facebook should be ashamed, and we should be worried.

Facebook used to give advertisers access to a wealth of demographic data so we could create targeted ads. For example, if we wanted to put an ad in front of every conservative NRA member with a high net worth, who also liked Mercedes cars and fly fishing, we could do it.

But they’ve taken most of the demographics away and instead replaced that capability with their AI review process. Then, they tell advertisers to go ahead and create the ad, and they will decide who should see it.

Let that sink in for a minute….

Artificial Intelligence is deciding what you see on Facebook.

That’s a problem for people like us who run Facebook ad campaigns, but we’ll find other ways to get our message out.

However, for people checking Facebook to see what’s going on with their friends and family, the implications should be terrifying.

If you’re a liberal, you’ll only see ads that Facebook’s AI thinks you’ll like.

If you’re a conservative, you’ll only see ads that Facebook’s AI thinks a conservative will like.

That’s a great way to create a polarized society!!

To be clear, Artificial Intelligence has a lot of really great uses. For example, my son works for a company using AI to predict which water pipes in a city need to be replaced because of lead contamination.

Thanks to AI, they save cities millions of dollars and help create a clean water system for the residents.

AI, as a technology, is not a problem. But what Facebook is doing with AI is a problem.

In this case, Facebook’s AI decided that people in a liberal community shouldn’t see a picture of their country’s flag and an inspirational quote. That’s just plain stupid.

We work with Facebook to support our client’s marketing objectives. But we don’t have to like it.

For me, I rarely post anything on my personal Facebook page. They already have my demographics, but every time I post something, I’m giving their AI engine another little insight into who I am and what I like to do with my free time.

Mark Zuckerberg is rich enough. He doesn’t need my data.

Until next time,


PS: If you don’t think this is a problem our society should be worried about, watch the movie Social Dilemma on Netflix.

PPS: I have a similar story about Google’s AI program, but I’ll save that for another newsletter.

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