Does the Facebook Ads Library discriminate against disabled people?
Facebook may not be your cup of tea anymore, but it’s still a behemoth in the social media world. In fact, despite the fact younger generations have been fleeing from Facebook for other sites, Facebook is still the most popular social media out there with 2.8 billion active users.
This means that it’s also an important place for online businesses to advertise. Businesses big and small want to take advantage of Facebook’s targeting algorithm that uncannily advertises products to people exactly when they seem to need them.
However, despite claiming to be a champion of small businesses, Facebook has apparently been making it accidentally difficult for small brands advertising adaptive fashion to get their products advertised on the site. Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening.
What’s adaptive fashion?
Adaptive fashion is a type of clothing created for people with specific needs. This could be anything from covers for catheter lines so they can be more discrete to shirts with magnetic buttons for people who may have trouble with fitting fiddly buttons through tiny slits. There are countless different kinds of adaptive fashion options and each one is useful for people with various disabilities and needs.
There are big brands such as Nike (have you seen the new super cool no-lace sneakers?) who are delving into the world the world of adaptive fashion, but a lot of these clothes come from small online brands who specialize in this type of clothing.
Facebook bans ads
Facebook has policies for what is and is not allowed to be advertised on their website – just like they have policies for what users can and can’t post. Due to the fact that adaptive fashion is occasionally related to medical needs the Facebook Ads Library has apparently been rejecting requests to advertise certain products. And by certain we mean most adaptive fashion products.
One brand admitted to the New York Times that they deal with the repeal process on a weekly basis. Their request to submit their ads to the Facebook Library of ads are consistently turned down. This means they’re then forced to appeal the decision, and then wait for a live human to agree that the AI was wrong. Only then will this company’s ads go live.
Another brand called Mighty Well saw their regular zip-up hoodie be turned down for advertising. The hoodie merely has the text “I am immuno compromised please give me space” on it. Clearly not a health or medical product.
Why does it matter if it’s medical?
The Facebook Ads Library is picky about “personal health products and services”. Ads that fit under this category must explain the benefits of your product in a way that benefits everyone (perhaps a bit strange if your product is specifically targeting people with certain needs).
The ads must also avoid using content that could make a person feel about their condition, and the ad must focus on the purpose of the product instead of the specific condition.
These clothing ads aren’t even medical products – none of them exist to cure or assist with any health conditions, nor do they claim to do so. They’re merely meant to help make people’s lives a little easier & comfortable. So, why is the Facebook algorithm deeming them against their policies?
AI has limitations
The Facebooks Ads Library is run by an automated system – an artificial intelligence. The intelligence analyzes the submitted ads and decides if they’re fit for insertion into users’ feeds. However, the AI seems to hone in on anything vaguely related to medical conditions and automatically denies them.
This was especially apparent when Maura Horton submitted four ad series over the course of three months for Yarrow style pants. Her pants have two styles – a standing fit and a sitting fit. The ads respectively featured a woman standing and a woman sitting in a wheelchair. (The pants are tailored differently depending on which fit you require, so they’re more comfortable.)
The standing fit was consistently approved by the AI and the sitting fit was rejected each time. This meant Horton would have to appeal the decision to get a person to look at the ad in order for it to be approved – often waiting about ten days for the approval. It seemed as if the AI would discern the presence of a wheelchair and automatically deny the ad regardless of context.
What’s even more confusing is that the notice provided to Horton said, “Listings may not promote medical and health care products and services, including medical devices, or smoking cessation products containing nicotine”. However, this is somewhat untrue according to Facebook’s own advertising policies page.
As we relayed earlier they do allow certain kinds of “personal health products” as long as your ad is carefully curated to fit within their guidelines. And anyone who has used Facebook knows that health products are most certainly advertised on their site – from period panties to weight loss products there are all kinds of “health” products on the site.
It seems there’s a disconnect between the Facebook Ads Library AI and Facebook’s own policies, which is leading to understandable frustration for the small businesses wanting to promote their adaptive fashion to people who could truly benefit from the clothing.