Facebook banned Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies this week in an advertising announcement. The move was necessary (many ads on the social network really are peddling snake oil), but it was horribly executed.
The main issue is that the ban sends the wrong message. At worst, Facebook is suppressing potential innovation of future technology. At best, Facebook is being lazy and unwilling to properly police its own ads.
The announcement starts off innocently enough. Facebook simply wants to protect you, the user:
Two of our core advertising principles outline our belief that ads should be safe, and that we build for people first. Misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook.
And then it immediately falls apart:
We’ve created a new policy that prohibits ads that promote financial products and services that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices, such as binary options, initial coin offerings, and cryptocurrency.
I would almost prefer if Facebook banned all financial (and political) ads, full stop. There are plenty of financial scams circulating on the social network, and Facebook is not enacting policies for them.
Instead, Facebook has simply decided to treat binary options, initial coin offerings, and cryptocurrencies as scams. Even listing these three terms together is misleading.
Take cryptocurrencies. The category is not inherently misleading or deceptive. But you don’t need to take my word for it.
May I present to you Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on January 4, 2018:
With the rise of a small number of big tech companies — and governments using technology to watch their citizens — many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it. There are important counter-trends to this — like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.
Maybe Facebook will start cracking down on all sorts of ads that promote not just financial products and services “that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices,” but all products and services it deems misleading or deceptive. After all, finance is not the only area that is affected by false advertising.
Maybe Facebook is cleaning house before adopting a cryptocurrency in one of its own offerings. Imagine Facebook accepting Ripple to pay for advertising or even Litecoin payments built right into Facebook Messenger.
Or maybe, just maybe, Facebook is getting rid of the competition for its own purposes.
Regardless of your motive, Facebook, you can do better. Put in the effort to sort out the good ads from the bad ads.
If that’s too much of a hassle, then maybe you shouldn’t be running an ad network.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.