Facebook Contextual Ads Insensitive to Boston Tragedy

April 16th, 2013
Filed under: Social Media — joel @ 9:20 am

News and commentary about yesterday’s tragic events in Boston are dominating my feed on Facebook, but there, in the middle of it all, I was appalled to see a pathetic, contextual ad for the Zoosk dating site, with a montage of all the smiling hotties that were dying to meet me.

Hey Facebook. Here’s a radical idea: Why don’t you have your engineers write a few algorithms to make decisions on what contextual advertising not to include in a user’s feed?

Are we no longer permitted to mourn for a few hours? We’re targets for advertisers. I get that. But have we been reduced to just that and nothing more? Is the “social” in social network a lie?

In February, 2011, Kenneth Cole became the target of relentless attacks for his insensitivity when he suggested that the uprising in Egypt was in response to Kenneth Cole’s new spring clothing line.

Facebook is no different in its insensitivity to the mood of the people. I understand that the company can’t simply stop pushing out advertising every time there is a tragedy, especially as they seem to occur almost daily, but seriously, can’t they use technology to dial back a little when they see a predominantly somber and reflective sentiment among users?

Contextual ads are almost always annoying, but often cross the line into distasteful or offensive. Not long after the one-year anniversary of the passing of his grandfather, my son was presented with this ad on his Facebook page:

Apparently, my son overlooked this caring gesture while his grandfather was still alive. And his grandfather, was, like his father, Jewish, a religion which generally sees cremation as a desecration of the human body. All of the facts concerned with the passing of his grandfather were disclosed often in multiple Facebook feeds and could easily have been used by Facebook to determine that this ad was offensive and poorly timed, had they cared.

Facebook is not doing advertisers any favors by pushing the wrong content on unreceptive users. I have no need for Zoosk. I am in a committed relationship and not shopping around. But I will tell you this. Seeing the company’s idiotic ad in my feed while I contemplated with sadness the week’s events has caused me to think even more poorly of the company than I ever did.

And I certainly don’t consider Facebook the new agora, reserved for scholarly discussions on lofty topics, but it’s starting to look more like an inner city bus stop.

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