An open letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

Please get better at selling me stuff.

My daughter, Clara, was stillborn in June this year. No words can do justice to the pain, shock and helplessness that I felt when this happened. My husband and I were lucky enough to receive excellent care and support, but the way you advertised to me made it worse.

Like for so many others my age, you’ve been in the background of lots of my life events. You’ve tracked boyfriends and breakups, helped me organise meet ups and house moving parties; and you have lots of photos of me beaming in a pretty dress on my wedding day. I was on the brink of being one of those infuriatingly happy people that clogged everyone’s newsfeed with ‘funny’ posts about their child. Or rather I’ll never know what kind of parent I would have been, because Clara died.

We turned to Facebook to quietly tell our friends and family about our tragedy but, my feed was filled with ads for baby things and there was only so much scrolling I could do without bursting into tears. I found the setting to hide parenting ads for a year but it did nothing. As an excited, expectant mother I had clicked on lots of ads for baby related things over the past months; so my telling you that I really didn’t want to see them any more made no difference. Over the coming months my feed still had hundreds of baby products on. I had to steel myself before going on. Ad blockers were ineffective and no matter how many times I gave feedback that the baby ads were ‘not relevant to me’ or I clicked on ANY ad for ANYTHING else regardless of whether I was interested  or not, it did little to change what I was advertised.

Your ads were unintentionally taunting me with reminders of what I’d lost.

I kept using Facebook because I needed to. So many of our family and friends are abroad. It gave us an easy way to tell people what had happened instead of having to make dozens of phone calls. It gave me a way to feel like I was being social without having to leave home on the days I just couldn’t. It meant I could still talk to friends. Being able to reach out in situations like these is incredibly important to your long term mental wellbeing. But I’d scroll through this much needed distraction and my stomach would flip seeing all the tiny babies. All the things I would never get to do for her. All these things I would never buy.

The fact that there is a button to hide ad topics like parenting means that you’re aware that this is a problem. 1 in 6 pregnancies where the person knows they are pregnant end in miscarriage or loss. 15 babies a day are stillborn or die within 4 weeks of being born in the UK. Each loss is likely to affect family and friends too. That’s a lot of people.

And the rub is that anyone who goes to the trouble of trying to hide parenting ads is the least likely person to click on those ads. My baby has died – I won’t be buying baby things. Even worse – for brands that do continuously appear in my feed, I’ll likely avoid them if I ever have a second child. Because I’ll want things to be different. Because I’ll want my child to live and I’ll associate their brand with my Clara who never got the chance to.

So please get better at selling me stuff. Make the way you target ads or sell data more responsive to people hiding parenting ads or similar topics. Sell us other stuff instead. I’m happy for you to use my data as long as you don’t use it to make me cry.

During baby loss awareness #blaw2018 this year I’ll be writing to some of the many brands that have been advertising to me and still aren’t gone from my feed. I’ll be asking them to demand better from you. For them and for us.

Kind regards,

Anna England Kerr

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