It isn’t surprising that Facebook utilizes its users’ information for advertising. However, some of the advertising showing up on student profiles is starting to raise concerns.
“I… initially had a jaw-drop-‘they put that on Facebook?!’ reaction,” said Ariana Buckley, a junior mechanical engineering major at Virginia Tech.
Buckley is a member of her school’s Hill and Veil Middle Eastern Dance Association, a cultural belly-dancing group. She logged onto Facebook nearly one year ago, and was surprised to find an advertisement for pole dancing lessons in her area.
“The idea that belly-dancers are trashy is one my organization… is trying to change. Then I was offended as a woman in general by the notion that I needed pole-dancing classes to be or feel sexy. Wrong again Facebook.”
After seeing the advertisement a few more times over the ensuing months, Buckley eventually blocked it.
“I think the way Facebook does their advertising is a little annoying but not so bad considering what it could be,” Buckley said. “I like that they give you the option to block an ad, they’re small, and off to the side. Much better than some other websites where the ads are flashing across the top or open over your content, forcing you to close it before visiting the webpage.”
Other students — such as Rachel Norris, a freshman special education major at the University of Maryland — are less satisfied with Facebook’s sponsored advertising.
Norris says she saw an advertisement placed by accusingu.org’s “Cry Rape!” on the side of her Facebook profile page.
The advertisement features a picture of a couple hugging and reads “One out of 10 Americans has been falsely accused of sexual assault or abuse. Learn more about Accusing U. stop false allegations.”
“I first saw the ad at the beginning of March and was immediately repulsed by it,” Norris said. “The ad continued to pop up every now and then on my Facebook page, appearing at least once every two or three days. Though it was an infuriating ad I didn’t feel the need to block it because it had already upset me and I knew that blocking it wouldn’t actually stop it from existing, just stop it from bothering me further.”
While she says most of the advertisements on her page have been “relatively tame” compared to that one, Norris feels advertisements like it show the “carelessness” many advertisers are exhibiting about the “implications” of their advertising and that Facebook is not applying its data very well.
“Ads like these demonstrate the idea that Facebook doesn’t care what’s being advertised on their site, as long as they’re making money off of the ads and target audiences,” she said. “It shows that they ultimately care less about content and more about product placement when it comes to advertising.”
The new system is supposed to allow advertisers to find customers through their search histories.
Connor Voss, a junior dance major at the University of Maryland, says he has received advertisements in Facebook for gay online services, local gay businesses and social scenes when his gender and sexual orientation were marked on his profile — one of the prime ways Facebook is able to identify target audiences.
“I’m not really offended, but I have contempt for whomever decided the ads were appropriate for anyone at all, much less a politically active, critical person,” Voss said. “[But] being catered to as a queer person can be exciting — even if it’s for purely capitalistic means.”
“Now that neither is on my profile, I don’t get them really at all,” he added.
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