Meta’s Facebook Ad Algorithms Under Fire as Brazen Drug Ads Flourish

The battle against illegal drug ads on social media platforms, particularly Meta’s Facebook, is intensifying as the company struggles to refine its algorithms to filter out such content effectively. Despite efforts to curb illicit advertisements, including those promoting substances like psilocybin and LSD, the automated system sometimes fails, allowing flagrant drug ads to remain while legitimate content, such as educational material on cannabis, gets erroneously removed.

Journalists and users have voiced frustration over this double standard. A Canadian reporter recently exposed how an ad for LSD was approved on Facebook, prompting action only after he sought clarification from Meta. The incident underscores the challenges faced by the platform in policing its content effectively.

Christopher McGrath of Deloitte Canada encountered similar issues while researching Canada’s black market cannabis trade. His attempts to gather data for a report on illegal cannabis sales triggered a flood of cannabis-related ads on Facebook, illustrating the complexities Meta faces in balancing content moderation and targeted advertising.

Experts highlight the reliance of social media platforms on machine learning and automated algorithms to police content due to the sheer volume of information posted daily. While Meta acknowledges the issue and vows to remove prohibited content promoting the sale of pharmaceutical and non-medical drugs, questions remain about the effectiveness of its moderation efforts, especially amid declining online advertising revenue.

The history of censorship on Facebook and Instagram adds further context to the ongoing struggle. Both platforms have faced criticism for targeting cannabis-related accounts and posts, leading to waves of content removals. In response to evolving regulations and public concerns, Meta has implemented various measures, including banning cannabis searches temporarily and tightening restrictions on vaping, tobacco, and weapon-related content.

However, these efforts have not been without controversy, with legitimate businesses like Dr. Bronner’s experiencing ad takedowns due to vague policy enforcement. In some cases, cannabis businesses have accused Facebook of unfairly targeting their pages, prompting legal action against the company.

Canada’s proposed online harms bill aims to hold tech companies accountable for content moderation, potentially penalizing Meta for failing to address illegal drug ads. As the regulatory landscape evolves, Meta faces increasing pressure to strengthen its moderation mechanisms and combat the proliferation of illicit drug ads on its platforms.


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