The Politics of Dancing (Around Facebook Ads)

I have made no secret of my dislike of social media, viewing it as a necessary evil required to communicate in this app-addicted era. Of course, my disdain makes me want to put in the absolute minimal effort, which results in really ineffective communication on my part. I just can’t muster the time and energy to do all the things required to blast whatever my message is past the howling maelstrom of other messages, feckless and otherwise, that are typically found on Twitter and Facebook.

Recently, I’ve been compelled to start wrapping my head around buying advertising on Facebook to promote a self-published novel I recently released, as well as events for the Alliance Party where I’d like other people to actually show up. I’ve posted elsewhere about the travails of FB advertising for the novel, but that was nothing compared to the bullshit I had to go through get approved for political advertising on FB.

A few months ago, Facebook announced that they would be tightening the requirements for political advertising in order to increase the transparency of who is actually paying for them. Good enough, I thought – anything that would perhaps decrease the opportunity of the Russians and other bad actors interfering with our electoral process. Little did I know, however, how much of a hassle this would end up being for me personally.

I had created a FB event for an upcoming Alliance Party meetup, and I thought it would be an easy matter to drop a few bucks “boosting” the event. Wrong! The problems began manifesting when Facebook demanded that I provide a scan of my driver’s license. I was none too happy about this, as I have a great deal of misgivings about how big tech companies like Facebook use and abuse personal information – and it doesn’t get more personal than a driver’s license scan, unless you include medical records.

I am willing to make a few sacrifices for the greater good, so I scanned my license and uploaded it, whereupon Facebook started really jerking me around. To wit:

  • First scan – wrong format. (Whaddaya mean you don’t accept PDF?)
  • Second scan – too much white space. (Cropped image.)
  • Third scan – image too small. (Resized scan file.)
  • Fourth scan – FB couldn’t read barcode on back of license. (Fuck you, Facebook!)

At this point, I really began questioning whether this was some sort of practical joke. Is Allen Funt still alive? (No.) I then had to go through an “appeals” process whereby I basically told them that this was a high-res scan from a flatbed scanner, and if they couldn’t read it, there really wasn’t a lot I could do.

After three or more appeals, they fessed up to being able to read the ad, but then dinged me because the name on the FB account(“West Region”) didn’t match what was on the driver’s license. The instructions for rectifying this were buried about three pages deep in an obscure corner of the Facebook website, and once I had made the change I had to do another round or three with Facebook to the tune of: “I changed it.”/”No you didn’t”/”Yes I did”/”No you didn’t” etc. etc.

I was able to purchase the ad eventually, but since my name was listed as having paid for the damn thing, I was immediately set upon by FB political trolls, who were irritating, but also pretty dumb. I was accused of being a Russian and/or Republican troll – presumably looking to split the vote and deliver Oregon’s mighty block of seven (count ’em – seven!) electoral votes to the GOP. I’m proud to say that I didn’t rise (or lower) to the bait, but it was mighty tempting.

Actually, I can understand the cynicism and distrust given the recent track record of misleading ads. Said mistrust and cynicism has only increased as Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that Facebook will not remove demonstrably false political advertising. So basically, political advertisers have to jump through more hoops to get their ads up, but after that they’re free to lie their asses off. Kinda defeats the purpose, I think.

Actually, I don’t know how much good these new identification requirements are really going to do. The whole scheme reeks of eye-wash and window-dressing; making people feel more safe by inconveniencing them, but really changing nothing. Kinda like having to take your shoes off before going through airport security.

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