In a shocking discovery by the Telegraph, Facebook was caught running ads that were discriminatory and predatory towards LGBT youth. The company took the ads down after the publication exposed the advertisements, but it wasn’t before many people were targeted for the “gay cure” messaging that has been slammed for being “aggressive and manipulative.”
One of the ads that Facebook was running was a video called “Homosexuality Was My Identity.” A user named Tessa Ann Schwarz saw the video, and contacted Facebook to complain. The video was promoting conversion therapy, and she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“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.”
Another ad promoted a book called, Help for Men with Same-Sex Attraction, again with conversion therapy as its aim. A user that saw the ad, Alistair Ryder, felt “shaken” when he saw it, and pointed out that “It was written in a way to try to appeal to people who may be depressed or self loathing due to their sexuality…. I think it’s pretty irresponsible for Facebook to allow an advert that preys on gay men with mental health issues in such a negative way on their homepage.”
The extensive use of demographics and marketing by Facebook was exposed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but it appears that the use of micro-targeting by advertisers is still alive and well. And in this case, Facebook allowed an advertiser to target people with interests in “gender issues.” But rather than promote positive solutions to gender issues, advertisers used the platform to pander content that experts call “offensive” and “an attempt to undermine the self-esteem of LGBT people.”
While Facebook has since taken down the ads citing that they did not follow their policies, the damage has been done for numerous LGBT youth. Conversion therapy is commonly understood to be “harmful and ineffective by all leading medical and mental health experts,” according to the Cut. So allowing such ads to run on Facebook is quite disconcerting, and shows a flaw in the platform’s advertising oversight.
LGBT people who are forced into conversion therapy can become traumatized, and as a result, need more recovery and support. These therapies still exist at camps, churches, and private counseling practices.
Conversion therapies use many tactics, which can include psychological manipulation and even physical abuse. Legal and policy officer at Big Brother Watch expressed their disgust at hearing the news.
“That Facebook not only allowed but profited from such a targeted advert, disguised as an offer of help while preying on young men, especially regarding something as personal as their sexuality, is sickening and truly dystopian.”