Facebook Bans Ads Promoting Bitcoin, ICOs, Other Cryptocurrencies

Written by Staff

Just weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly endorsed cryptocurrency as something that can “take power from centralized systems and put it back into people,” Facebook is banning ads that promote bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

In a Jan. 4 Facebook post, Zuckerberg hinted that this ban was coming.

“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,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page. “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.”

Facebook is banning ads that promote bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in an effort to protect its users from “misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”

But Facebook already bans many of these sorts of deceptive ads, Facebook ad critic Gavin Sheridan told BuzzFeed.

Can Facebook enforce the policy it just announced?

From BuzzFeed. Story by Ryan Mac.

Facebook has recently been criticized for hosting dubious cryptocurrency-related ads, some that appeared to promote get-rich-quick schemes and potential scams. Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News highlighted how some of these Facebook ads peddled bitcoin-related disinformation and fake news touting their services and initial coin offerings (ICOs).

“We want people to continue to discover and learn about new products and services through Facebook ads without fear of scams or deception,” Robert Leathern, a Facebook product management director, said in a company blog post. “That said, there are many companies who are advertising binary options, ICOs and cryptocurrencies that are not currently operating in good faith.”

Among the ads targeted, those from “crypto-genius” James Altucher, a digital currency evangelist who’s been featured on media outlets like CNBC.

Gavin Sheridan, CEO of legal startup Vizlegal and a frequent critic of Facebook’s ad policies, welcomed the move — with a few caveats. “The adage to trust what people do — not what they say — holds true as ever,” he told BuzzFeed News. “In effect, Facebook already bans many of these sorts of deceptive ads — often placed by advertisers that redirect to websites made to look like news providers such as CNN, that in turn lead to websites that seek to obtain credit card details — often in situations where users have no idea what they are buying. Arguably it was a poor ad review process that let these ads through in the first place.”

The move to police ICO ads comes as Facebook works to fix its platform, which has routinely been exploited by bad actors, from scam artists to fake news purveyors to foreign governments seeking to upend US politics. In the past few weeks, Facebook announced significant changes to its news feed intended to limit the reach of untrustworthy news sources while boosting local news outlets and posts from friends and family.

Just how well Facebook will enforce the policy it just announced is a curious question. Last year, for example, ProPublica reported that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users by race. Last February, following that report Facebook vowed to crack down on discriminatory ads, but when ProPublica followed up in November, they were still able to purchase advertising that wouldn’t be shown to African Americans, people who need wheelchair ramps, and even Jews, among others.

“We may not catch every ad that should be removed under this new policy,” read the Facebook announcement.

It’s not clear whether the policy has already been enforced, but some of the types of advertisements Facebook intends to target are still on the platform. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that James Altucher’s ads will no longer be allowed, but an unverified page using Altucher’s name, for example, is still promoting advertisements for “New must-own cryptocurrencies could turn as little as $10 into a fortune.” The ads lead to a website that looks to sell Altucher’s “Masterclass On Cryptocurrencies.”

“If you follow my script below, you could turn $100 into a retirement fortune in the next 12 months… while minimizing your risk,” says the banner at the top.

Read more at BuzzFeed.

Facebook Bans Ads Promoting Bitcoin
Mark Zuckerberg Photo: Getty