A few weeks ago, I posted a piece that described how Facebook was blocking our attempts to run an employment ad promising equal pay for women engineers. Why? Because Facebook says the ad relates to “politics and issues of national importance.” (Their words, not ours.)
Our story has received a lot of attention on social media and in the national press. In particular, Forbes published an insightful piece that questioned Facebook’s approach. All of which has not gone unnoticed at the social media giant: Senior executives, including Rob Goldman, Facebook’s Vice President of Ads and Rob Leathern, Director of Product have responded suggesting that the problem with our ad’s approval was merely procedural – WillowTree needs to be authorized to run ads with political content.
The good news is that needed attention is being brought to the topic of gender pay equality. The bad news: Facebook’s senior management has a significant problem they still don’t know how to solve.
I can empathize with Facebook’s management. Thousands of ads are submitted to them every day, and there are lots of bad actors trying to game the system. Obviously their goal isn’t to block ads about equal pay – Facebook is committed to gender pay equality for their own employees. But the fact is, their current approach to screening content doesn’t work. What’s frustrating is that instead of taking sensible steps to modify and improve the process, they are blindly defending it.
Let me point out once again that Facebook ‘s initial premise for rejecting our message was mistaken: the ad is about employment, not politics. The issue could and should have been resolved with a human telling us, “You’re right – this ad does not relate to any election or partisan platform. It isn’t a political ad.”
Instead, Facebook doubled down on their insistence that our company apply for “authorization” to run political content. The problem is, no one at WillowTree wants to be authorized. There are 21 separate steps to the process, which will be required for anyone who might edit or administer the WillowTree Facebook page. Authorization will require our employees to provide sensitive personal information, including their home address, a picture of their passport or driver’s license, and social security information. Curiously, Facebook doesn’t ask for the same information from our senior company officers, nor is there an authorization path (to our knowledge) for the company as a whole. WillowTree, as an organization, is submitting the ads — they are not being submitted on behalf of an individual employee. Shouldn’t the authorization process be about authorizing the organization, not the individual? Why should any individual have to supply such sensitive personal information to run a recruiting ad on behalf of their employer?
So Facebook will have a trove of deeply personal information on employees whose job it is to post ads and interact with our community of followers, but not the executives who manage these employees and give them direction, nor the organization as a whole. What is the point? Facebook hasn’t told us what they are going to do with our employees’ information. Will Facebook make it available to others? Are they willing to guarantee that will never happen? Remember, they don’t have a great track record of safeguarding personal data.
WillowTree employees are not transferring plutonium to Facebook – they are transferring employment ads. I have never heard of any company demanding such personal information from an employee of another company in order to process a simple transaction.
So where do things stand now? While Facebook has no problem running employment ads that exclude women, our ad promising equal pay for women engineers will not run until a WillowTree employee is willing to put his or her personal information at risk. This is an absurd situation.
Facebook is not run by bad people. As I said before, I appreciate that their management is in a difficult position. However, they are continuing down a path that will erode trust in their brand. All social networks, online and otherwise, are built on trust.
Facebook needs to unambiguously embrace the responsibility that comes with being the world’s largest media network – even if it means sacrificing a measure of short-term profitability. They need to take a hard and even painful look at how they design their approval algorithms and processes – which will likely entail adding more costly human oversight in the near term. And just like media companies from the not so distant past, Facebook will need to keep those humans in the loop until their algorithms can reliably weed out the bad actors without rejecting ads that any person with common sense would recognize as having a positive message.
Which brings us once again to our positive message of promoting gender pay equality. At WillowTree, we believe it’s the right thing to do. We also believe it makes our company a better place to work. Glassdoor agrees – and has given us multiple “Best Place to Work” awards. So if you can’t see our recruitment ads on Facebook, why not visit us directly at willowtreeapps.com/careers to see what positions we have open.
We hope to connect with you soon.