01.27.22

Senator Murray Demands Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook and Instagram’s Double Standard Restricting Ads on Women’s Health

Murray: “Facebook and Instagram block advertisements providing information on women’s health and sexual health, while allowing often graphic, sexual content targeted at men.”

 

Murray to Zuckerberg: “Explain Meta’s uneven application of its advertising policies and the steps you will take to immediately address this double standard.”

 

ICYMI: “A new report found that the social network has rejected ads from 60 companies focused on women’s sexual health, citing policies on “adult products and services.” – MORE HERE FROM NEW YORK TIMES

 

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, demanded Meta Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg explain and fix the company’s double standard restricting ads that provide information on women’s sexual health on Facebook and Instagram—while allowing graphic, sexual ads targeted at men.

 

“Over the past several years, a series of reports have described a pattern of Facebook and Instagram restricting access to women’s health information. A new report has now found that Facebook and Instagram block advertisements providing information on women’s health and sexual health, while allowing often graphic, sexual content targeted at men. I therefore request you explain Meta’s uneven application of its advertising policies and the steps you will take to immediately address this double standard,” Senator Murray wrote in her letter to Zuckerberg.

 

According to a report from the Center for Intimacy Justice (CIJ), Facebook and Instagram regularly reject advertisements for products, services, and information on women’s sexual health. Based on a study of 60 companies, Facebook and Instagram blocked ads on topics including consent education, breastfeeding, pelvic pain, incontinence, menopause, and endometriosis—and more than half the companies surveyed reported having their entire ad account suspended. Despite Facebook claiming that it had rejected ads because of policies that bar “adult products or services” or “adult content” including “nudity” or “explicit or suggestive” depictions, the CIJ report found that Facebook applies these policies unevenly depending on the gender of the target audience. According to the report, Facebook often allowed graphic ads targeting men—many with suggestive imagery or language on sexual performance or pleasure.

 

In her letter, Senator Murray also noted this is a part of a larger pattern of Facebook and Instagram inappropriately blocking women’s health information. In September 2021, reporting revealed that Facebook and Instagram hid posts pertaining to mifepristone and misoprostol, medications used in abortion care. In December 2021, reports found that Facebook’s advertising enforcement restricts access to information on abortion related care. In the press, Facebook has admitted to “mistakes” in its ad approval processes—but has yet to announce any steps to address the problem.

 

Senator Murray made clear that enough is enough: “Social media is often a critical tool for learning and sharing information, including health information. By preventing access to women’s health content, I am concerned Meta is actively preventing many of its users, especially women, from getting access to information that could support their health and well-being.”

 

In her letter, Senator Murray demanded answers when it came to how the ad policies are applied—and what specific steps the company is taking to end the gender bias in their policies and ensure that women on their platform are not being restricted from viewing content related to their sexual and reproductive health.

 

The full letter can be found HERE and below:         

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

 

Over the past several years, a series of reports have described a pattern of Facebook and Instagram restricting access to women’s health information. A new report has now found that Facebook and Instagram block advertisements providing information on women’s health and sexual health, while allowing often graphic, sexual content targeted at men. I therefore request you explain Meta’s uneven application of its advertising policies and the steps you will take to immediately address this double standard.

 

According to a report from the Center for Intimacy Justice, Facebook and Instagram regularly reject advertisements for products, services, and information serving the health needs of women and people of diverse genders.[1] Based on a study of 60 companies, Facebook and Instagram have blocked ads from every organization surveyed on topics including consent education, breastfeeding, pelvic pain, incontinence, menopause, endometriosis, and other issues critical to women’s health. Facebook reportedly suspended half the surveyed companies’ entire ad accounts, often with little explanation or recourse.

 

Additionally, it appears Facebook applies its advertising policies unevenly depending on the gender of the target audience. According to the report and subsequent press coverage, in rejecting ads, Facebook often cited its policies that bar “adult products or services” and “adult content,” including “nudity” or “explicit or suggestive” depictions, when rejecting ads related to women’s health.[2] However, despite Facebook regularly blocking women’s health information, graphic ads targeting men—many with suggestive imagery or language on sexual performance or pleasure—were allowed.

 

This is not the only time Meta has been accused of inappropriately blocking women’s health information. In September, reporting revealed that Facebook and Instagram hid posts pertaining to mifepristone and misoprostol, medications used in abortion care.[3] In December, there were new reports that Facebook’s advertising enforcement restricts access to information on abortion related care.[4] In response to several of these incidents, Facebook pointed to “mistakes” in its moderation process.[5] However, these actions point to a pattern of stifling access to information on women’s health and sexual health, without any clear steps taken to address this self-described series of mistakes on your platforms.

 

Social media is often a critical tool for learning and sharing information, including health information. By preventing access to women’s health content, I am concerned Meta is actively preventing many of its users, especially women, from getting access to information that could support their health and well-being. To ensure you are applying your policies evenly and allowing access to health content across its platforms, I request you provide answers to the following questions no later than February 8, 2022.

 

  1. Please provide any policies and procedures pertaining to:
    1. The acceptance or rejection of advertisements for Facebook and Instagram, including the appeals process.
    2. The review of advertisements after they are posted to Facebook or Instagram, including in response to reports by users.
    3. The suspension of companies’ advertisement accounts, including the appeals process.

 

  1. Which portions of these review processes involve automated tools or algorithms, and which portions involve review by Facebook or Instagram employees? Do all submitted advertisements undergo review by a Facebook or Instagram employee?

 

  1. What training do employees receive pertaining to the advertisement review process, including on Facebook’s policies on Adult Products and Services and Adult Content, as well as on women’s health, sexual health, and reproductive health?
    1. How often do reviewers receive this training?
    2. Please provide copies of any materials used during such trainings.

 

  1. How does Meta track information on acceptance or rejection of advertisements for Facebook or Instagram, including on the basis of certain policies, pertaining to particular subject matter, and targeted toward particular genders?
    1. For each of the past three years, please provide the number of advertisements pertaining to Adult Products and Services or Adult Content submitted, accepted, or rejected by Facebook or Instagram, including the gender of the target audience and the subject matter of each ad. For rejected ads, please also include the grounds for the rejection, which rejections were appealed, and the results of this appeal.

 

  1. For each of the past three years, please provide the minimum, maximum, and average length of time for the appeals process for advertisements initially rejected on the basis of the Adult Products and Services or Adult Content policies.

 

  1. What steps, if any, does Meta take to determine if there is gender bias in its moderation of advertisements and other content on Facebook or Instagram?
    1. What steps, if any, does Meta take to determine if there are common issues in its moderation of content pertaining to women’s health and sexual health across advertisements and other content?
    2. Please provide any analyses of potential gender bias in Meta’s policy enforcement practices over the past three years, as well as any steps the company has taken to address these issues.

 

  1. How do Facebook and Instagram communicate with potential advertisers to communicate the reasons for rejecting advertisements, including small businesses and organizations offering products, services, and information pertaining to women’s health and sexual health?

 

  1. What steps, if any, has Meta taken in response to this latest report regarding Facebook and Instagram inappropriately blocking advertisements for products, services, and information pertaining to women’s health and sexual health, including potential gender bias in the review process?

 

Please direct any questions and response to this letter to Yelena Tsilker on my staff at Yelena_Tsilker@help.senate.gov.

 

I appreciate your timely attention to this issue.

 

Sincerely,

Senator Patty Murray

 

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