Five dozen companies specializing in women’s health products and services say Facebook has frequently rejected their ads over objections they contain “adult content,” according to a report the Center for Intimacy Justice published this week. Facebook’s advertising policies prohibit reproductive health products or services that focus on sexual pleasure, but anecdotes from the companies the Center for Intimacy Justice either interviewed or surveyed paint the picture of a platform that enforces those guidelines in a way that’s seemingly arbitrary and sexist.
The 60 companies that took part in the report have all had advertisements rejected by Facebook at one point or another. About half said they’ve also had their accounts suspended by the social media giant. One such company is Joylux. It offers vFit Gold, a product women can use to strengthen their pelvic floor. “Because of the nature of our product, the look of it,” Joylux CEO Colette Courtion told The New York Times Facebook and other companies believe it’s “pornographic” in nature.
Since 2017, Joylux claims Facebook has shut down its advertising account twice. It says the company never provided a reason for those actions. It also claims Facebook has automatically denied ads that include “vagina.” That’s something Meta, Facebook’s parent company, disputes. A spokesperson for the company told Engadget it doesn’t enforce a blanket ban on keywords like “vagina” and “menopause.” Instead, it says it considers “how each ad is positioned.”
With help from an agency specializing in appealing ad rejections, Joylux has managed to get its ads up on Facebook in recent years. However, the company has had to change its copy to the point where those advertisements aren’t helpful to consumers. “We can’t show what the product looks like and we can’t say what it does,” Joylux told The New York Times.
A spokesperson for Meta told Engadget its enforcement isn’t perfect and that sometimes it makes mistakes. The company also noted it has its current policy in place in part because it strives to take into account what people from different countries and cultures will take away from ads that promote adult products.
“We welcome ads for sexual wellness products but we prohibit nudity and have specific rules about how these products can be marketed on our platform,” the spokesperson said. “We have provided detail to advertisers about what kinds of products and descriptions we allow in ads.”
What makes Facebook’s actions in these instances frustrating for the 60 companies that took part in the report is that they believe Meta hasn’t applied the same standards to ads targeting men. “Right now, it’s arbitrary where they’ll say a product is or isn’t allowed in a way that we think has really sexist undertones and a lack of understanding about health,” Jackie Rotman, the founder of the Center for Intimacy Justice, told The Times.
To that point, the organization found an ad promoting an erectile dysfunction pill that promised a “wet hot American summer.” Another, promoting a lubricant, said the lotion was “made just for men’s alone time.”