The Weirdest Things Facebook Thinks I Like
You are what you click, so here’s what you are.
Facebook is in a sticky place this week because apparently, some propagandists over in Russia were using the tech oligarch’s ad targeting capabilities to spread fake news. Apparently they mostly did this without getting caught because apparently Facebook makes it stupid-easy to target hyper-specific user segments, without pundits or reporters or congressional interns or whatever seeing a thing in their timelines.
I guess this comes as a surprise to some people, somewhere. But the arcane nature of Facebook’s ad algorithms are well known to anyone who was a marketing assistant at any point between 2011 and 2017.
(Or anyone who‘s has ever gone looking for a sponsored post they saw in their feed! Like there was this Buzzfeed Tasty post about this nice calm French chef and she amicably made a tomato salad?! And she was Sponsored by a life insurance company?! And try as I might, I could not find it on Tasty’s page!)
Anyway, the ad technology is there, so like, obviously at some point someone was going to target Curt Schilling fanpage lookalikes for fake stories about, I don’t know, Hilary secretly being Pablo Escobar in a wig.
(Which… now that I think about it…)
But I digress.
For anyone to whom this story about the net public bad of hyper-targeting political ads with 0 accountability does come as a surprise, here is a quick primer on how Facebook ads work for you the user:
- The ad pops up in your feed based on something you like (say New England Revolution).
- You can click it or scroll by it but only you — and other Latvian-Americans/fans of New England Revolution/married women in their early 30s — can see it.
- No one else sees it
- You will have a hard time finding it later, should you want to do such a thing.
(That primer was not very thorough, but anything more complex is way above my pay grade. I was a marketing assistant quite recently.)
Since this story broke, and because Facebook is throwing paid content at me based on stuff I like, I recently tried to get a firm handle on what Facebook thinks I like.
It’s what a good citizen aught to do, and I am, if nothing else, a good citizen.
You can be one, too! Facebook makes this info available to all users. Simply click here and you will be taken to a confusing, alienating gallery of the click activity that constitutes your worth to the tech oligarchs that dictate our reality.
It is sorted into convenient subcategories that mostly make sense. And you will notice that most of the stuff in these subcategories will appear normal! Nashville, pizza, The Paris Review, Homestar Runner, hip-hop. Those are all things someone could be interested in. Maybe even you! But look at it more than once and some inconsistencies and inexplicabilities pop up. Why are you interested in Field of Dreams if you’ve never seen it? How did “fishing line” get in there?
But this isn’t about you and your interests — this is about me and my interests, according to Facebook.
You can see them below!
For the sake of total accountability, and without further adieu,
The Weirdest Things Facebook Thinks I Want to See Ads About
Adult (a seeming contradiction with babes, yet i contain multitudes! -KC)
The Citizen (South Africa)
Network (film)* (a * indicates a film i have never seen -KC)
Radio (2003 film) *
The Cube (film)*
The Muse (1999 film)*
Before and After (film)*
Haley James Scott
Breakdown (music) (hell yea tho -KC)
Apartment (see above “Renting” -KC)
Landlord (see above “Apartment” and “Renting” -KC)
Gravitation (helpful photo of Newton here -KC)
Horses (I hate horses -KC)
Duck (powerfully accurate -KC)
Affordable Housing (see above Renting, Apartment, Landlord -KC)
current events (see above, the present -KC)
Citizenship (see above The Citizen, The Citizen (South Africa) -KC)
Home (a seeming contradiction with Travel, yet as i said…..multitudes!! -KC)
New York City
Hamilton, Ontario ** (a ** indicates a place i have never been -KC)
Leasehold estate (see above Renting, Apartment, Landlord, Affordable housing, -KC)
Entre Rios Province **
Time (see above The present, Before and After (film) -KC)
Buick (listed under “People” -KC)
Nyan Cat (listed under “People” -KC)
Boxxy (!!!!!! -KC)
Dog food (see above Food; Pet food; dog, puppy -KC)
Beef (see above Meat, Food -KC)
Milk (NO. -KC)
Children’s fashion (see above Child actors -KC)
Tattoos (see above Babes -KC)
New Britain Rock Cats
Polytechnic Institute of the Philipines
Child (see above Children’s fashion, Child actors -KC)
Fad (see above Existentialism -KC)
Earth (see above Sun -KC)
Socialism (see above Renting, Apartment, Landlord, Affordable housing, Leasehold estate -KC)
Most of it is inaccurate but I wouldn’t change a thing.
For more information on how Facebook serves political ads, listen to this week’s On The Media, and then read up on ProPublica’s efforts to monitor these targeted ads.