Colman Domingo
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Conversion Therapy Ads Preyed on LGBTQ Facebook Users

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Following revelations that Facebook played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election because it was ill-equipped to vet and handle predatory fake news, the social media site has now allowed insidious conversion therapy ads to target users who’ve liked pro-LGBTQ pages, according to an investigative report from U.K. paper The Telegraph

Facebook removed ads marketed to LGBTQ users that promoted deleterious programs offering “cures” for sexual and gender identities that don’t fall under straight and cisgender, but only after The Telegraph informed the company that it had discovered a glitch in its micro-targeting. Some of the ads had been preying on LGBTQ users for months. 

LGBTQ users who were fed the predatory ads said that when they clicked on “Why am I seeing this ad?” on the social media site, it was often because they’d expressed interest in “gender issues” or in LGBTQ pages.  

A young gay man said he was "shaken" when he was shown an ad for “Help for men with same-sex attraction,” written by an evangelical conversion “therapist.” 

"I think it’s pretty irresponsible for Facebook to allow an advert that preys on gay men with mental health issues in such a negative way on their homepage,” the man, Alistair Ryder, told The Telegraph.  “I don’t think I was targeted for any specific reason, aside from being gay, but out of the people I know who I’ve asked, I’m the only person who has been targeted with this ad.”

Griff Ferris, the legal and policy expert for Big Brother Watch, which describes itself as a “cross–party, non-party, independent non-profit organization leading the protection of privacy and civil liberties in the UK,” excoriated Facebook for allowing the ad on its platform. 

"That Facebook not only allowed but profited from such a targeted advert, disguised as an offer of help while preying on young men, especially regarding something as personal as their sexuality, is sickening and truly dystopian,” Ferris said. "Targeted advertising is aggressive and manipulative, using personal and private information to exploit people’s innermost fears, desires and prejudices, therefore it must be restricted to protect people’s rights.”

Another Facebook user, Tessa Ann Schwarz, who identifies as a lesbian, said she was shown an ad for something titled “Homosexuality Was My Identity.” The video ad espoused the hateful practice of “curing” LGBTQ people.  

According to the social media site's own policy, “ads, landing pages, and business practices must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or methods.”

A spokesperson for the company told The Telegraph that it had removed the ads in question: “We have rejected these ads and they are no longer running on Facebook."

Facebook officials told The Advocate the fact that the ads ran was not a micro-targeting or algorithm error, as The Telegraph implied. The company also issued this statement: “We do not allow ads that promote gay conversion therapy or that imply personal attributes about people, like their sexual orientation. We quickly removed these ads after further review. While enforcement is never perfect, we're always working to find and remove ads that violate our policies.”

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