Facebook has mistakenly blocked the advertising of some small businesses as it relies more heavily on artificial intelligence to police its platform, according to a report.
Bloomberg reported Friday that errors made by AI algorithms looking to rid Facebook of offensive ads has caused already struggling businesses to miss out on online sales opportunities.
For many small businesses, Facebook has become a potent financial lifeline, but there have been drawbacks that include problems with the company’s content-moderation software, limited options for customer support and lack of transparency about how to fix problems.
New York-based businesswoman Ruth Harrigan told Bloomberg that her honey and beeswax products company, HoneyGramz, was mysteriously blocked for the “violating” Facebook’s policies early this month. Harrigan said HoneyGramz is almost entirely reliant on Facebook ads to drive online sales, as the pandemic has put a chokehold on tourism.
“I was getting a little anxious thinking, ‘Oh my God, Black Friday is around the corner, most of my sales for the year happen in November and December and that’s it,’” she told Bloomberg. “I said, ‘If I’m shut down any longer than this, it’ll cripple me.’”
Harrigan complained to Facebook and her account was restored days later, but the entrepreneur estimated that her business lost about $5,000 in sales in the interim.
Central to the problem is the fact that this year, Facebook has deployed its human moderators to focus on election and COVID-19 misinformation, leaving AI algorithms to monitor other areas of the platform. As a result, small businesses caught in Facebook’s automated filters have been unable to advertise through the service.
“We know it can be frustrating to experience any type of business disruption, especially at such a critical time of the year,” a Facebook rep told The Post. “While we offer free support for all businesses, we regularly work to improve our tools and systems, and to make the support we offer easier to use and access. We apologize for any inconvenience recent disruptions may have caused.”
But small businesses are not only losing sales, in some cases, they are being forced to make cost cuts and layoff staff due to changes in Facebook’s ad algorithm.
Yaniv Gershom, co-founder of digital marketing firm 4AM Media, told Bloomberg that he had to cut 12 jobs partly because of Facebook ad account bans, which have lasted almost six months. “They give you zero feedback,” he said. “The only people who are OK are massive spenders who get a Facebook rep that can escalate issues and find out what’s wrong.”
On a recent press call, Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen acknowledged the problem, adding: “As we take more action, we remove more content, there’s more opportunities also for those to be in error.”
But that explanation hasn’t satisfied business owners like HoneyGramz’s Harrigan, who was never given an explanation of why her account was blocked in the first place.
“They just said they turned it off in error,” Harrigan said. “They didn’t give me any feedback. They just reset the whole thing as if it never happened. It was really, really scary.”