Facebook Controversy: Why Doesn't Facebook Care About the Health of Its Members?

The latest Facebook controversy: not letting public service announcements about cancer awareness on their site.

Toronto Public Health thought it could get with the times and do a lot of good at the same time. Facebook thought differently. According to an article by Robert Cribb, published in the Toronto Star on Saturday, September 11, 2010, Facebook rejected their ad for testicular cancer awareness.

Toronto Public Health went through the regular channels, paying $10,000 for an ad that would run for a month. Since men aged 18-35 are at a high risk, and don't tend to do self-exams, they thought Facebook would be a perfect platform for men in that age range to see their awareness campaign. When they submitted their ad, however, Facebook officials deemed it "threatening" and "distasteful." The ad featured a close-up of a male torso clad in black boxer-briefs, with the words "Check Your Package" superimposed over it. Beside the picture was more text urging men aged 18-35 to learn how to do self-exams and perform them regularly.

Toronto Public Health had test-marketed the campaign, and that image, plus the "Check Your Package" slogan, was the one rated as most effective at getting the attention of the men in that age group. The picture is not racy in any way. The model is not overly muscular or sexualized, and large text hides any sign of the genitals we all know must be behind the underwear.

Facebook officials told Toronto Public Health that the ad could not be run, as Facebook policy is that ads may not "focus on a specific body part," that the slogan "Check Your Package" was unacceptable, and that stating "18-35 year olds are at risk" was "threatening." Also, the Facebook official noted that they "don't allow age callouts under any circumstances."

Whichever Facebook provided that information is certainly a liar. As a member of Facebook myself, I have seen numerous ads focussing on specific body parts, and for much less noble causes. Some examples are close-ups of breasts to promote, well, anything, even things that have nothing to do with breasts, close-ups of women's naked torsos to promote weight-loss products, and close-ups of women's naked backs, or clothed rear ends. Often, these body parts are not being used for anything so noble as cancer awareness, but rather to hawk weight-loss products or dating websites. There are even ads that depict women seemingly in the process of removing their clothing, which are usually promoting social or dating websites.

Of course, the part about never calling out to specific ages is a lie, as well. Facebook ads target my age all the time, and not even because the product is made for my age group, but simply to get my attention and make the ads feel more "personal." For example, when I changed my Facebook status to "engaged," I immediately started seeing ads for bridal stores and the like, often with the headline "23 years old and engaged?" I often saw ads for weight-loss products saying "23 yr old Female, and Overweight?" whereas my friend saw the exact same ads with "19 yr old Female, and Overweight?" When I became pregnant, I used a private message on Facebook to tell a cousin who lived far away. I did not mention my pregnancy in any public space on the site, just in one private message. Sure enough, ads reading "23 years old and Pregnant?" began popping up. Clearly, Facebook explicitly mentions age groups all the time, but suddenly, if it's for a worthy cause, like cancer prevention, mentioning a specific age group is "threatening."

Facebook has been in a lot of hot water for constantly changing its privacy policy without notifying its members, for automatically setting up to site to take as much of your information and broadcast it as widely as possible, and making the individual member responsible for constantly checking privacy settings to insure that not just anyone can see all of their pictures, updates, etc. Now they won't post and ad (bought and paid for) that will save lives? Their excuses don't even add up, because if their policy really entails rejecting ads that feature specific body parts, provocative language, or age "callouts" then they have a heck of a lot of ads that contravene their own policy. I think it's time Facebook users demanded an explanation. All free social sites use advertising for revenue, but Facebook takes it too far in that in sells personal information for million dollar profits, while not even allowing public service announcements (that have been paid for) to reach their members.

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