Fixes from Facebook?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step. (Lao Tzu)

 

Nicola Mendelsohn, the head of Facebook in Europe, called me earlier today in response to my open letter to Facebook. She listened to my story. She expressed her condolences at our loss and how sorry she was to for how using Facebook had made me feel in the wake of Clara’s death. She acknowledged that constantly seeing baby related ads (I had one for a baby bed just yesterday – over 4 months after I hid the parenting topic) was a problem and said that they would make it a priority to fix.

Apparently there was a bug on the hide ads tool so it wasn’t working but it’ll work in the future. She gave me a guarantee that I’d be kept informed about how things progress and they’d tell me when they think it’s fixed.

I know a phone call is not a fix, but it’s a step in the right direction. So thank you, dear reader, for helping make the first small step towards making social media a kinder place for bereaved parents.

 

I’ll be going on the Victoria Derbyshire programme tomorrow at 9am to talk about what happened and why it’s important that online platforms make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. So tune in, join in, and let me know how it goes!

 

Support on social media

I’m happy with you using my data as long as you don’t use it to make me cry.  

It’s just a fact that a lot of our lives also take place online. Instagram knows how you like your coffee and what kind of holiday you like, Google knows where you are and who you talk to and Facebook and Amazon probably knew you were having a baby before you’d told all your close friends.

Which is fine. Usually. You’ll probably need some the baby bottles, blankets and gadgets you’ll be advertised. You’ll probably click on a few ads, you’ll almost certainly buy something.

But when you lose a child, there’s no way to get them to stop. Not immediately. It’ll slowly decrease over time but during the most painful time for you, you will still be being bombarded with images of what you so desperately wanted. We need these platforms because being able to talk to people is important. It lets you stay in touch with friends even on days that you just can’t leave the house. You find strength in support groups of people who are going through the same thing.  Being able to reach out in situations like these is incredibly important to your long term mental wellbeing. But when I’d scroll through this much needed distraction my stomach would flip.  All these babies and mothers staring out at me.


You too could be this happy.
Except I can’t because she’s gone. 

Suddenly my cheeks would be wet and I’d put down my phone and search around for something less painful to focus on. 

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 will affect family and friends too. That’s a lot of people. Not all of them will want to block parenting ads. Some may want to try for another child as soon as they can. But for those of us that need some time to process our loss there needs to be a way for us to opt out. 

Facebook already recognises this in part as it allows you to ‘hide parenting ads’ for either 30 days, a year or forever. However at the moment using this feature makes no discernible different in the feed of a recently bereaved parent. Amazon has no such feature.

Not only does this hurt us when we’re still grieving, but we’re also just not going to buy what they’re selling. Companies are wasting their money on these ads. If they do manage to achieve brand recognition during our misery it’s hardly going to be a positive association. And if we’re ever shopping for baby things again, we’ll avoid them. Because we’ll associate them with our child that we never brought home.

The status quo doesn’t work for anyone.

This is why I’ve written an open letter to Facebook asking them to pay more attention to when people choose to hide parenting as an topic of advertisement.

I’m also going to be writing to some of the companies whose ads kept on popping up on my feed, asking them to demand better of Facebook too.

I’ll also be getting in touch with Amazon to ask them to include an “opt out of parenting/baby items” feature too.

If you want to help demand better for bereaved parents during baby loss awareness week (#blaw2018), here’s what to do:

1. Log into Facebook
2. Click on the Quick Help question mark in a circle next to your alerts and select ‘Report a Problem’ at the bottom of the menu
3. Select “Something isn’t working” from the new menu. (We’re essentially telling them that their hide topic of advertising feature isn’t working.)
4. Select “Other” from the drop down menu and type the following message into the box:

” The hide ad topics function does not work when hiding parenting ads. It has no discernible effect on the frequency of baby and parenting related ads shown to people. This setting is often used by recently bereaved parents in order for them to continue using Facebook without being reminded of their loss. Please fix it. #blaw2018 ”

5. Click Send. If it refuses to send (it might say there’s an error), then try deleting a word or a full stop.
6. Share this information with your friends

 

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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