Meta is profiting from ads spruiking all manner of illegal goods from drugs to cloned credit cards and even the Capuchin monkey.
Ads for the goods are to be found across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger and can all be seen in the Meta Ad Library — a repository for all of the adverts that appear across its platforms.
The ads, which were first reported by 404 Media, openly tout illegal wares and often point users towards the encrypted and largely unmoderated messaging service Telegram. They feature images of the goods and captions that openly describe what is being sold.
In fact, a simple search for “Telegram” on Meta’s Ad Library will produce all manner of adverts for illicit goods — including pingers, acid and mushrooms, cocaine and cloned credit cards. It is not clear how many of these ads are genuinely offering the goods or are looking to scam users. There are also plenty of other betting groups, forex traders and even Chinese women-only dating services offering services to Australian Meta users via Telegram links.
All of the adverts linked above are still up and available for Meta users to interact with at the time of publication.
“I think that most people would believe that they [Meta] do have if not a legal obligation then a moral obligation, especially when we’re talking about advertising live animals,” said Lisa Given, professor of information sciences at RMIT University.
“Even if they were puppies and kittens, at the end of the day, people discourage that behaviour because it can open animals up to abuse.”
It is also difficult to ascertain exactly how much money Meta has made from these types of ads. One can’t expect that it would have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line, given the low quality of the adverts and traditionally low digital CPMs.
However, one would expect Meta, which has been talking up its AI and machine learning expertise for a while, to have the tools in place to prevent these ads from appearing in the first place.
“In the short period of time that these ads might be up, they’re generating revenue for the company. Is it something where they’re just deciding to turn a blind eye rather than foregoing profit? That would be a very cynical outlook,” added Given.
“But there’s certainly no doubt that the technology is there [to stop the problem] even simple approaches to looking at the ad content. If I go onto Gumtree and I post that I’m trying to give away puppies, they have automatic search functions that are going to catch the ad and pull it aside for indexing purposes.”
When contacted for comment, Meta pointed to a statement previously given to Crikey.
“We strongly encourage people to report items that may breach our rules so we can review and take the appropriate action,” a spokesperson said.
Meta’s advertising policies also state that ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of illegal drugs or any other substances, as determined by the company nor the sale or promotion of fake or counterfeit goods and scams.
“If they’re peddling things that are clearly illegal, that is the kind of that various levels of government would want to know about,” added Given.
“It calls into question whether our governments should be doing more in regulating social media companies if they’re not doing it themselves?”