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giving the people more of what they don't want

It's no secret to anybody reading this blog that I have my frustrations with Facebook. Most of you won't even be surprised to learn that I am often skeptical of Facebook's advertising (and other) recommendations. There was the "boost post" wtf moment last month. There was the dubious "start a shop" recommendation for the food pantry page, which was disconcertingly reminiscent of the similar advice to make my work-from-home service-based business "a shopping destination" back in April.

Last night's frustrations –– which most of you were lucky enough to miss –– were more in the same general field of experience as the redirect to someone else's Ads Manager, but they cost me 7+ hours on a contract that only pays $250 monthly (not actually terrible money for what I am supposed to be doing, but nobody can really plan and pay for the totally random $h!7 that Facebook periodically throws into the mix). It also cost me most of what was left of my sanity, but whether that's a serious loss is kind of up for debate at the moment.

Somewhere in the midst of trying to figure out yesterday's mayhem (the video I was working on is now up and running, by the way ... and not because I actually fixed the problem, either; I didn't do anything differently this evening from what I did last night, but this time Facebook finally decided to accept my input and actually save it ... FOR NOW), I got the world's most aggravating prompt, one of those truly obnoxious kinds that won't get tf out of the way until you open it to tell it to mind its own damn business: Facebook thought maybe I'd like to set up monetization tools for paid live events so that I could create, discuss, promote, AND host my live event, "all on Facebook!" ... as if that were any kind of a selling point for a platform that had lost every useful piece of data I'd fed it in the previous five hours, not just once but over and over and over again (I am still bitter about this).

It was therefore especially "on the nose" that after I finally got the pieces of information pulling together in the video content, and started the video re-distributing across Facebook, and placed an ad using the content ... I got this:

Facebook. Really?

Please be kidding.

The truth is, it's only been a couple of hours - had been maybe an hour and a half when I got that prompt. But that's a profoundly silly way to go about generating prompts in the first place ... never mind that there is no discernible match between the results on the screen (which aren't even reporting yet) and results anybody would want to get more of (we don't know yet how the ad will perform, but that kind of means it hasn't done anything so far that we'd want to duplicate).

I know plenty of people who are skeptical of algorithms and machine learning and AI (related-but-not-identical concepts; this post isn't the place to unpack them and tonight I'm very tired), with good reason(s). Even the most parsimonious of them would probably agree that recognizing when a given ad report matched a set of parameters established to qualify as "worth repeating" and generating a corresponding dialogue box to invite the user to initiate the process of, essentially, doing more of the same thing, should be easy and well within even very basic machine-learning capabilities.

The fact that Facebook consistently misses the boat on this isn't just frustrating for exhausted academics who would really rather be analyzing digital speech samples than plugging in ad targeting requirements (or re-entering the same data Facebook has already lost repeatedly, for the 47th time in a row). It's also disconcerting for computer programmers who ostensibly plan on doing far more complicated things with the same basic principles –– like robotics-assisted surgery (my dad's cardiologist is recommending same to replace a valve in his heart, and I feel a little queasy just thinking about all the ways I watch these tiny not-brains fail us every day) -- and for anybody alert to the fact that Facebook remains the de facto phone service, internet browser, and quotidian platform of communication for much of the globe.

The level of incompetence on display, daily if not hourly, in Facebook's content management and ads measuring systems necessarily gives rise to questions about how well other features of the platform are working: The supposed commitment to eliminating fake accounts, to identifying and removing false (news) reports, to monitoring credible threats posted on profiles and in groups. That's to say nothing of the alarms it ought to sound regarding Meta's data handling practices for things like personal addresses, credit card information, or the state-issued forms of identification required for access to some kinds of advertising tools (I had to submit my driver's license, my business license, and a letter signed by a notary public in order to place ads for a mayoral campaign in 2020).

And that's something to think about.

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