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Campaigners use micro-targeted Facebook ad to call on Facebook to halt micro-targeting

David Murphy

Digital rights group, Fight for the Future, and consumer advocacy organization, SumOfUs, have joined forces to call on Facebook to immediately end all micro-targeted advertising on its platform.

In late April, an investigation by non-profit news organisation The Markup found that, until this week, Facebook was allowing scam artists to target misleading ads about dangerous fake COVID-19 ‘cures’ to people interested in ‘pseudoscience’. NBC News also reported that Facebook is still allowing pages and ads that peddle deadly ideas like encouraging people to drink disinfectants. According to the groups, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States exposed the dangers of Facebook’s micro-targeting functions that allow advertisers and political groups to target content directly to vulnerable groups, increasing the spread of dangerous medical misinformation and potentially exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in the US.

Because the pandemic has made in-person action impossible, the groups delivered their message to Facebook executives by using Facebook’s own advertising product to micro-target Facebook's executives with ads featuring images of their own faces.

Almost 30,000 people signed petitions from SumOfUs and Fight for the Future that were delivered to the Facebook executives, calling on them to prioritize public safety and permanently disable its micro-targeting features.

“Facebook’s system of allowing advertisers and politicians to micro-target ads to the most vulnerable and susceptible people is a modern form of brainwashing,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “It’s a massive, unethical, psychological experiment on humans. And it’s going to get someone killed. Facebook has shown time and time again that they are not capable of moderating content in an ethical way. Pushing for them to take down more posts is not going to solve the problem. We need to address the root cause: their invasive micro-targeting machine.”

Emma Ruby-Sachs, executive director of SumOfUs said that people are frightened right now, and that Facebook was “like a goldmine for fraudsters” who want to exploit that fear. “Letting advertisers target people based on their clicks is like giving them superhighway access to the most vulnerable,” she said. “This pandemic is showing us that without transparency or regulation, Facebook is a threat to people's health and safety. They must end micro-targeting now before more lives are put at risk.”

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