Facebook’s ad policy blocking ‘undesirable’ appearances is pulling down the wrong ads

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Over the past few years, Facebook has had multiple battles with advertisers over its ad policies. The biggest problems that companies encounter when advertising is Facebook’s vague guidelines and grey areas. This has led to advertisers seeing their ads mistakenly pulled down or blocked for unfounded reasons. 

The ‘Undesirable’ Appearance Policy

A key section of Facebook’s ad policy is focused on “body depictions” that include “fat/cellulite” or “ill-fitting clothing.” Facebook also prevents advertisers from using imagery that contains close-ups of feet, ears, and nostrils. It also doesn’t allow people to post ads that feature “excessive or gross food consumption,” for example “eating live animals.” 

Plainly stated, Facebook doesn’t want advertisers to target people with skin conditions or those who are overweight. Of course, nobody out there really wants to see ads of body parts anyway. The ad policy is, for all intents and purposes, in place for the greater good. Where the policy falls short, however, is that it contains little nuance for more unique campaigns.

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As reported by The Verge, the most recent advertising mix-up occurred when rosacea activist and beauty blogger Lex Gillies promoted a photo from her Instagram page. Gillies had recently appeared in an art show that highlighted models with different skin conditions. She promoted her post so it could gain visibility beyond her 20,000 followers. However, whenever she tried to boost the post, Instagram would block her promotion. 

After appealing, getting rejected again, and several emails later, Facebook responded to Gillies. The company said that it doesn’t “allow ads that focus on aspects of a person’s body to highlight an undesirable or idealized body state.”

Eventually, Facebook reversed the error and allowed Gillies’ promoted post to run. On one hand, the incident again highlights the vague area where Facebook ad policy resides. On the other, it emphasizes the difficulty of adequately policing all ads, especially ones that require a more thoughtful approach.

Not The First Time

Advertisers are all too familiar with Facebook’s ad policy antics. A few years ago, Facebook pulled an ad from Cherchez la Femme, an Australian group that organizes events promoting body positivity and feminism. The offending ad for an event called “Feminism and Fat” included a picture of a plus-sized model, Tess Holliday, in a bikini. In that instance, Facebook also cited its “undesirable” policy guideline only to eventually approve and reinstate the ad. 

Meanwhile, advertisers who aren’t promoting body positivity events have also felt the pinch of Facebook’s ad policies. At the end of 2018, the platform mistakenly flagged multiple ads, including posts from Nike, Papa John’s, and Reebok as “political” when the ads were promoting sportswear and mediocre pizza. In that case, the flags probably came as a result of Facebook overcorrecting its system whilst trying to recover from multiple scandals involving user privacy and the 2016 election. Still, all of these instances are revealing looks at how Facebook’s ad policy might be working against advertisers.