Facebook Targeted Young LGBTQ Users with Conversion Therapy Ads

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Facebook targeted young LGBTQ people with ads and videos touting “sexual purity” and gay “cures” that could turn them straight.

The Telegraph reported on several conversion therapy ads appearing recently in the feeds of queer Facebook users in the UK. When they clicked on the “Why am I seeing this ad?” button on the ads, the members were told it was because Facebook saw they were interested in “gender issues.”

Facebook targeted one lesbian with a video called “Homosexuality Was My Identity,” aimed at promoting conversion therapy, because she had “liked” LGBTQ pages.

“I don’t know why Facebook has permitted this group to target LGBTQ people, who have intentionally sought out community and education amongst peers, for shaming and hatred masked as love,” the woman, Tessa Ann Schwarz, told the Telegraph. Schwarz flagged the video (below) and told Facebook it was “really upsetting.”

The video was produced by an online evangelical group calling itself Anchored North. Started by three twentysomethings with backgrounds in marketing, Anchored North bills itself as “using media and evangelism to reach the lost with the gospel in a way that has never been done before.”

“Just as a missionary goes abroad to reach the unreached, Anchored North is going to the mission field of the internet to reach the 1.6 billion online video viewers with the gospel and connect them with local churches.”

Another ad sent to a young gay man promoted the book Evangelical Man, Same-Sex Attraction, which touts celibacy as a means to achieve “sexual purity and sexual peace.”

Facebook targeted

“There was nothing overtly homophobic about the ad I saw itself,” admitted Alistair Ryder, “but it was written in a way to try to appeal to people who may be depressed or self loathing due to their sexuality.”

Of course, Facebook has come under major criticism for the way its algorithms deliver ads and other content, especially for promoting misleading, manipulative or outright fraudulent posts.

The company’s advertiser policy forbids ads “that discriminates against, harasses, provokes or disparages people,” but the social media giant still struggles to vet the massive volume of ads it receives. And advertisers have become savvy about framing their content to avoid being flagged. Often its left to users to let the site know when something is harassing or predatory. Critics say that’s not good enough.

“Targeted advertising is aggressive and manipulative, using personal and private information to exploit people’s innermost fears, desires and prejudices,” Griff Ferris of the UK civil rights group Big Brother Watch told the Telegraph. “Therefore it must be restricted to protect people’s rights.”

A Facebook representative says the specific gay cure ads referenced by the Telegraph are no longer on the site.

Do Facebook targeted ads need more scrutiny?

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