October 19, 2023 . By Reuven

I’m a full-time instructor in Python and Pandas, teaching in-person courses at companies around the world (e.g., Apple and Cisco) and with a growing host of online products, including video courses and a paid newsletter with weekly Pandas exercises. Like many online entrepreneurs, I’ve experimented with a host of different products over the years, some free and some paid. And like many other online entrepreneurs, I’ve had some hit products and some real duds.

From DALL-E: A python and a pandas bear, in prison

A number of years ago, I decided to advertise some of my products on Facebook. I ran a bunch of ads, none of which were particularly successful, mostly because I didn’t put a lot of effort into them. I decided to try other things, and basically forgot about my advertising account.

It was only a year or so ago that I thought that maybe, just maybe, I should do some advertising on Facebook (now Meta). I went to my advertising page, and was a bit surprised to see that my account had been suspended for violating Meta’s advertising rules. I decided that this was weird, but didn’t think about it too much more, and went on to do other, more productive things.

Just a few months ago, I again visited my ad management page, and again saw the notice that I was not allowed to advertise because I had violated their rules. This time, for whatever reason, I decided that I was going to look into this further. I didn’t see any indication of what rules I had broken, and I knew for a fact that I hadn’t done anything other than advertise courses in Python and Pandas. I didn’t quite know what to do, but there was a button marked, “Click here to appeal.” So I clicked it, assuming that someone at Meta would reach out to me, saying, “Whoops!”

Nope: About 30 minutes later, I got e-mail from Meta saying that they had reviewed my case, I had definitely violated their policy, and now I was banned for life from ever advertising on a Meta platform. Here’s the e-mail that I got:

Going to my advertising management page indeed brought up a similar message:

And of course, when I click on the “Business support home,” I get a truly scary message:

All of this seemed utterly bizarre to me. What could I possibly have said or done that would get me permanently restricted? And is there any way that I can get out of this situation?

I decided to turn to my network on (where else?) Facebook, to see if anyone had any ideas. I also turned to LinkedIn, in case someone there might have some insights.

The good news? I got an answer right away from a friend on LinkedIn. He told me that he also had problems advertising his Python training courses on Meta platforms because — get this — Meta thought that he was dealing in live animals, which is forbidden.

That’s right: I teach courses in Python and Pandas. Never mind that the first is a programming language and the second is a library for data analysis in Python. Meta’s AI system noticed that I was talking about Python and Pandas, assumed that I was talking about the animals (not the technology), and banned me. The appeal that I asked for wasn’t reviewed by a human, but was reviewed by another bot, which (not surprisingly) made a similar assessment.

As I said, that was the good news. So, what’s the bad news?

I’ve been in the computer industry for a while, and have no small number of contacts. Three friends who have worked at Meta (two current, one past) offered to check into this for me.

The first friend looked into it, and found that there was nothing to be done. That’s because Meta has a data-retention policy of only 180 days, and because my account was suspended more than one year before I asked people to look into it, all of the evidence is now gone. Which means that there’s no way to reinstate my advertising account.

Now, I’m not a big believer in “there’s nothing to be done,” especially when it comes to companies and software, both of which are created and managed by people. But this friend seemed convinced, so I moved onto a second one. He didn’t get any further. And the third friend? He didn’t seem to make any headway, either.

The bottom line seems to be that Meta’s AI made a mistake, a big one. (You can be sure that I’ll be using this example when I teach courses on machine learning.) The fact that both the original judgment and the appeal were handed by AI is pretty ridiculous.

But even more absurd is the fact that because I didn’t react to their ban within a certain amount of time, there now seems to be no way for me to undo it. Which means that when I start to advertise my courses again — and I’m actually planning to do so in the near future — Meta won’t be seeing any of my money, whereas companies like Google, who seem to employ at least some humans in their advertising department — will.

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