Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s Political Rule Blocks Ads for Bush’s Beans, Singers Named Clinton

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg:

The three ads have in common the use of the word “bush.” Facebook Inc.’s system automatically associated the word with the former presidents of that family name, flagging them as political and blocking them, pending verification of the advertiser’s identity. They now appear in Facebook’s searchable archive of political advertising – the company’s newly launched initiative to increase transparency around who is paying to promote certain political ideas. The archive is home to dozens of ads that don’t belong there, from various schools, towns, brands and people that happen to share names with presidents.


“Clinton” is one of the most popular names for cities in the U.S., not just the surname of the political family. In Clinton, Indiana, a vacation bible school was blocked from advertising a free lunch event for kids aged 3 to 12. “Come learn how COOL Jesus’s love is!” it said, including a picture of a flier featuring animated penguins. 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.

This is an indication to me that Facebook simply isn’t taking this problem seriously. Instead of employing more humans to verify automatically detected ads, they’ve apparently added a basic string matching filter. Consider, for a start, all of the public buildings in the United States named after former presidents and other officials. Text matching without context isn’t good enough to serve as a filter.