Side Note

Facebook ads are great!

Unsurprisingly, this ad is a scam.

Unsurprisingly, this ad is a scam.

(If you’re a conservative scammer.)

Have you ever taken a look at the sorts of ads that Facebook actually sells? They’re pretty grim.

Facebook’s new-ish political ad viewer allows you to check out the top ad buyers for the past seven months as well as the past seven days. Among the top buyers by both money spent and number bought are some familiar names — think Beto O’Rourke, Donald Trump, Kamala Harris, etc. But then there are ads by mysterious companies that seem explicitly designed to take advantage of Facebook’s greatest natural resource: fearful old people with limited computer skills.

There are ads from a company called “Financial Security Today” urging those who see it to sign a petition showing they think we should prioritize “U.S. veterans before refugees,” a fake quiz from “Freedom Finance Group” that claims will help you figure out if you’re conservative or liberal, and a service called Concealed Online which promises to help you get a concealed carry permit over the internet (because the Second Amendment is under attack) but instead takes your personal information and gives you a fake gun safety certificate in return. Then there are the ads for actual fake news, including from innocuous-sounding-but-completely-batshit publications such as LifeZette and Truth Examiner (from Cyrus Massoumi, one of the original fake newsters).

These ads are designed to take advantage of Facebook’s users’ relative tech-unsavviness in order to push a conservative worldview while simultaneously scamming them. this is not a new phenomenon — the right-wing newsletters of yore pushed essentially the same grift, except on paper — but the fact that Facebook, one of the biggest companies in the universe, clearly views their existence on its platform as a good (read: profitable) thing is alarming. It’s no secret that Facebook has a history of looking the other way when its platform is used for less-than-altruistic-purposes — but, even as the company comes under more scrutiny than ever before, they really don’t give a shit about who’s using their platform and how.