In an alarming example of algorithmic bureaucracy with no option for appeal, a Python and Pandas instructor named Reuven Lerner was banned for life from advertising on Facebook.
Mystified as to why Facebook had banned him from advertising his programming course, he asked the company for an explanation and reconsideration. He received an opaque automated reply, which read, “After a requested review of your Facebook account, we confirmed it didn’t comply with our Advertising Policies or other standards. You can no longer advertise using Facebook Products. This is our final decision.”
Lerner shared what had happened to him on LinkedIn, and a friend there told him he’d had a similar experience. It turned out that Facebook’s shoddy algorithm had mistaken Lerner for selling live animals (pythons and pandas), which is not allowed. Consequently, it forbade him from ever advertising on Facebook again without providing a reason.
Lerner reached out to friends who work or had worked at Facebook’s parent company, Meta. They tried to help, but the algorithm’s decision was final:
Three friends who have worked at Meta (two current, one past) offered to check into this for me. The first friend looked into it and found that there was nothing to be done. That’s because Meta has a data-retention policy of only 180 days, and because my account was suspended more than one year before I asked people to look into it, all of the evidence is now gone. Which means that there’s no way to reinstate my advertising account.
Now, I’m not a big believer in “there’s nothing to be done,” especially when it comes to companies and software, both of which are created and managed by people. But this friend seemed convinced, so I moved onto a second one. He didn’t get any further. And the third friend? He didn’t seem to make any headway, either.
Lerner said he intends to advertise his courses again, and when he does, “Meta won’t be seeing any of my money, whereas companies like Google, who seem to employ at least some humans in their advertising department — will.”