Facebook allowed fraud to continue as long as it got paid: reportBusiness Insider
- Facebook told workers to ignore fraudulent ads and hacked accounts as long as the company “gets paid,” BuzzFeed News reported Thursday.
- BuzzFeed News’ investigation revealed how Facebook consistently prioritized making money over protecting users from scams, hackers, and disinformation.
- Ahead of the US elections in November, Facebook even told its ad reviewers to focus on selling political ads over looking for the ones that broke its rules, according to the report.
- Facebook has made repeated promises to crack down on users and advertisers who break its rules, but dozens of reports in recent months have exposed that the company continues to fall short on those promises.
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A blistering investigation into Facebook’s ad business published by BuzzFeed News on Thursday revealed in new detail how the company prioritizes making money over enforcing its own rules intended to protect users from scammers and hackers.
According to BuzzFeed News, Facebook continues to knowingly allow — and profit from — fraudulent advertisers, and the company’s ad business is “built with the same lax controls and outsourcing of critical moderation work” that has allowed disinformation, hate speech, and harassment to proliferate on its platform.
Facebook employs thousands of third-party contractors, through companies like Accenture, BCforward, and Cognizant, to review both user-generated content and ads placed on its platform to ensure they comply with Facebook’s extensive policies.
But an Accenture employee who manages 45 reviewers for Facebook told them to ignore patterns of fraud and hacked accounts as long as “Facebook gets paid” with legitimate payment methods so that it isn’t on the hook for issuing refunds, BuzzFeed News reported, adding that the manager justified allowing hackers to run ads via hacked accounts because it was a win-win — more revenue for Facebook and a larger audience for the hacker.
A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company invests heavily in keeping bad ads off its platform, and disagreed with the idea that it has profited from bad ads, but declined to comment about how it handles the money it makes from ads that violate its rules.
“We have every incentive — financial and otherwise — to prevent abuse and make the ads experience on Facebook a positive one. To suggest otherwise fundamentally misunderstands our business model and mission,” the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Facebook did not respond to a request from Business Insider for comment on this story, and Accenture did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Facebook’s ad business brought in $21.2 billion in revenue in the third quarter. But as BuzzFeed News and others have previously reported, some of that revenue has come from shady and at times dangerous advertisers, including pro-violence white supremacists, scam artists, anti-vaxxers, and hawkers of COVID-19 disinformation.
Facebook has repeatedly pledged to crack down on bad actors on its platforms, but dozens of reports in recent months have exposed instances where Facebook’s inability to enforce its own policies accurately, consistently, efficiently, or even at all have halted progress toward those goals.
Here are a few of the major revelations from the investigation:
- Facebook banned political advertisers from creating new ads in the week before the US elections in November to head off misinformation. But before that deadline, it told moderators to prioritize selling ads over looking for rule-breaking ones and to reactivate accounts that broke its rules whenever possible, according to the report. (Facebook told BuzzFeed News the shift in focus was meant to help advertisers get their message out ahead of the ban.)
- TikTok precursor Musical.ly had placed ads featuring young girls dancing provocatively. But when Facebook employees raised concerns that Facebook’s algorithm was targeting the ads primarily toward middle-aged men, the company restricted their access to data about the ads, implied that it dismissed their concerns because Musical.ly was a big spender, and let the ads run for a year and a half, the report said. (Facebook told BuzzFeed News it created a policy against suggesting sexualized interactions — though it was never announced anywhere public.)
- An internal Facebook review found that, of thousands of ads placed by Chinese advertisers, 30% violated at least one of Facebook’s policies, and employees said the company looks the other way even though issues with China-based advertisers are well-known. (Facebook told BuzzFeed News it has a dedicated “business integrity” team in Asia and doesn’t ignore violations by China-based advertisers.)