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Facepalm: Facebook's moderation bots began banning thousands of small businesses from using their ad services during the week leading up to Black Friday, a crucial time for many entrepreneurs. This was most likely caused by a shift in their moderation workforce to focus on handling misinformation around the US election and the coronavirus pandemic.
For weeks and months leading up to the US election, Facebook has been begrudgingly evolving its message around censorship and content moderation to fit the times and trends seen in other social media companies. There has been noticeable cross-over between this American election season and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, and between these two monumental online topics, the tech giant's teams of human moderators have had their hands full.
For this reason, they have relied heavily on moderation bots to maintain the status quo this Black Friday season, apparently to the chagrin of many small business owners who depend on Facebook's online marketing tools.
Seemingly randomly, Facebook's non-human moderators began banning thousands of small business accounts on its ad service, each attributed to a "Policy Violation" without further explanation, which was then lifted days later.
In reference to the recent steps to flag misinformation on the site, Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, stated in a press call, "As we take more action, we remove more content, there's more opportunities also for those to be in error."
During a Bloomberg interview, small business owner Ruth Harrigan explained that she lost an estimated $5,000 of crucial revenue in the days that her advertising was muted, stating, "...most of my sales for the year happen in November and December and that's it."
Ms. Harrigan was certainly not alone. Jessica Grossman, CEO of the digital marketing firm In Social had to explain to her clients why their sales hit a cliff this week, stating, "Facebook almost doesn't realize the impact of their own algorithm and what that means." She also confirmed among the accounts she manages that there was no apparent pattern around the bans.
With the pandemic response varying from country to country but generally having a disproportionate effect on small businesses, this week's online retail event was an invaluable time for many who were looking to make up for lost sales in prior months.
"We know it can be frustrating to experience any type of business disruption, especially at such a critical time of the year," Facebook released in an official statement. "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."