Facebook Just Went Too Far & We're Not Putting Up With It

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Untitled-2Photo: Courtesy of Facebook.
UPDATE: Facebook sent this comment via press representative last night:
"We work hard to provide high quality and personalized advertising to people on Facebook. These ads violated our advertising policies and we specifically have a News Feed ad ranking algorithm that will reduce the volume of low quality ads in the diet and physical enhancement categories. Unfortunately, these ads were not caught by our system and so we rely on negative feedback provided by users to catch these types of ads. With negative feedback, our system penalizes the ad so that it stops showing and it also penalizes the campaign and advertiser."


I got the first one about two months ago. I was scrolling through my mobile Facebook feed while waiting for the elevator, and a Suggested Post appeared between birthday announcements and pictures of my college roommate's baby. It was a split-screen image of an obese woman in a wheelchair, juxtaposed with a handsome man in an army uniform. The headline read: "They were heading for divorce until she did something about it."

It barely registered. Facebook serves up bizarre ads all the time, and though this was a pretty ham-fisted attempt at a weight-loss advertisement, I've seen much stranger things online. But, then it happened again. Then, it happened every day.

The same ad, featuring the woman in the blue muumuu and her fit husband, began to appear one to three times a day on my Facebook feed. Sometimes she was standing, legs akimbo as she attempted to walk, and other times she was seated, apparently immobilized by her weight. Sometimes they were different models entirely, but always an extremely overweight woman and a not-obese man. The headlines varied, too: "He cheated because of her weight. See his SHOCKED reaction to her transformation." Or, "The sit-ups weren't working. See how she saved her crumbling marriage," and "Her husband decided it was time to divorce — then she did something about it."

After months of just scrolling on by, last week I finally realized I was getting incrementally more pissed about this. I started to take screen shots, just because, WTF? Not only are the ads generally offensive, Facebook seems to think they're what I, specifically, need. In fact, Facebook apparently thinks they're the only thing I need; I've gotten exactly one mobile ad not related to weight in the last month. (It was: "Want to be a wild woman in the bedroom?") According to Facebook, I am an overweight woman desperately clinging to my man and also not very good at sex. And, I need to "do something about it."

Just to be a million percent clear, I don't find the ads offensive because of the woman's weight, but because of the exploitative, misogynist, shaming way she is presented. The viewer is meant to be "SHOCKED" by her appearance and pushed into clicking through to find out just how "INCREDIBLE!" her "magical transformation" is. The assumptions being made by these ads are the fucked-up parts: You are fat, unloveable, and in desperate need of help. OR ELSE.

cheatedPhoto: Courtesy of Facebook.
There's no way to ascertain the algorithm by which Facebook delivers Suggested Posts to users. (I've reached out directly to Facebook and its PR team, but at this time have not gotten a comment.) But, I showed the ads to my friends, my boyfriend, and other colleagues. No one else I know has seen them. Lexi Nisita, our social media director, suggested I comb through my personal Facebook posting history as well as all my Likes. Though I have shared a few of my Anti-Diet Project columns in the last year, there is no weight-related content in my profile. None of my Likes are fitness-, diet-, or even relationship-focused. I Like Michael Haneke and This American Life and the page my friend created for her cat, Choco Bat.

Of course, we're all aware that Facebook knows a lot more than we tell it. I Googled "La Prairie eye cream" for a recent story, and now my sidebar is chock full of the stuff. But, even though I occasionally research health and fitness topics, nothing would indicate that I'm looking for something like this.

So, what exactly is going on? Is Facebook looking at my photos, thinking I might want to lose a few pounds (or, like, 300 pounds)? Did it see that I'm "in a relationship" and concur that my horrific, grotesque weight might be destroying it? Does Facebook assume that, because I write about body image, I must be obese, insecure, and desperate? And, why are these just showing up on my mobile app? Am I fatter in my phone? I've never seen the posts anywhere but my Facebook feed, and haven't been able to track down a source.

I'm a writer who willingly puts her image online publicly. I'm used to anonymous idiots and their inane, misspelled commentary on my big, fat face. I know trolling when I see it. Facebook is trolling me.

The best way to deal with a troll is ignore it, but in this case, I'm making an exception and giving it the attention it feeds on. A risky move, but as Jezebel proved this week, sometimes it's the only way to get the higher ups to do the right thing. In this case, the higher ups are the ones at fault, but I'm not going to sit on my hands and ignore this disgusting behavior any more.

If you're sick of this garbage, tell them. It doesn't matter if you're on Facebook or not. It doesn't matter if you get friendly ads, or no ads at all. Facebook is an entity in our contemporary culture, and we all have a right to call it on its foul play.

So, thanks for the helpful hint, Facebook. I finally "did something about it."

freshstartPhoto: Courtesy of Facebook.


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