Spotlight: Facebook Blocks Wrong Ads In Mammoth Blunder

Automated systems to monitor and block political advertisers have been tagging ads from unverified advertisers with words such as ‘bush’ or ‘Clinton’ as political advertisements.

In the wake of ad and data scandals that have plagued Facebook in recent times the company has been working very hard to prevent malicious content, the misuse of its ads and policies and general misinformation on the social media platform.


Evidence that Russia used Facebook to interfere in the 2016 US elections and the recent exploitation of user information via an app in the Cambridge Analytica scandal have raised many political brow’s.

Apart from an apology trip for CEO Mark Zuckerberg where he was questioned by members of the EU Parliament, Facebook released revised political ad policies in May 2018. The most pertinent revisions state that all political advertisers are to be verified on the platform, and any political ads must clearly list the persons or organisations that purchased the ad.

In an effort to curb the placement of politically focused ads by third parties and unscrupulous characters, artificial intelligence was used to assist in identifying political ads placed by persons who have not been verified or have not included “paid for” information and details. These AI systems are focused on transparency and safe content however innocent advertisers are getting caught in the crossfire with their ads being removed after being incorrectly analysed as “political” or “issue-based” in nature.

In a report by Bloomberg, advertisers including a hair salon, a lawn-mowing company and even Walmart had their ads taken down as the copy contained the word “Bush”. Whilst it’s easy to see why Facebook’s AI would associate the word with past presidents George W. Bush and George H.W Bush it’s a little harder to understand how the multi-billion dollar tech giant would try eliminate a political surname, that also happens to be a common noun.

Blocked for having the wrong address.

Furthermore, some advertisers are having ads removed as their store or business address happens to be located on a street or road named after a past political figure. Platnum BBQ, an authentic American themed diner had their ad removed as their address “President Clinton Avenue” was categorised as politically focused.

“In Clinton, Iowa, an insurance company was blocked from advertising its annual family baseball night for customers and friends, featuring a backpack drive for needy children. And in Clinton, Tennessee, Facebook’s system took down an ad for performances of ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Jungle Book,’ featuring actors from local high schools,” wrote Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier.

Blocked for using the word 'vote'
Blocked for using the word ‘vote’
In an interview with Bloomberg, a Facebook representative stated that its political ad review process is still fresh and teething problems are expected: “Review and enforcement won’t be perfect — we’re certainly working on ways our technology can improve detection — but it’s important that we start.”

Facebook were asked for comment but no response had been received at the time of writing.

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