Facebook Bans Bitcoin Ads


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

The platform 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. Altucher has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Gavin Sheridan, CEO of legal startup Vizlegal, welcome Facebook’s 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 shady 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.

It also comes 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’s hands.”

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,” the Facebook announcement said.

While the new policy will likely prevent Facebook users from being ripped off in Cryptocurrency scams, it might also raise eyebrows given that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said cryptocurrency can “take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands.”

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.

Ryan Mac is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on the intersection of money, technology and power.

Contact Ryan Mac at ryan.mac@buzzfeed.com.

Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada. PGP fingerprint: A088 89E6 2500 AD3C 8081 BAFB 23BA 21F3 81E0 101C.

Contact Jane Lytvynenko at jane.lytvynenko@buzzfeed.com.

Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.

Contact Alex Kantrowitz at alex.kantrowitz@buzzfeed.com.

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