One mother shared some very sad and concerning news online after she was bombarded with baby-related promotions following a devasting stillbirth.
In an effort to stop big tech companies from inundated grieving mothers with targeted ads, Gillian Brockell wrote to social media companies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Experian, saying if they could use an algorithm to determine that she was pregnant by tracking her searches, they should have realized her baby had died.
According to Brockell’s letter posted to Twitter on Tuesday, she searched for maternity-related items and social media posts during her pregnancy before it ended in tragedy.
Thank you for responding. Since I posted this, someone showed me where in my settings to turn off pregnancy/parenting ads. I tried to find it a few days ago, but it’s too confusing when you’re grieving. That’s why I was suggesting a keyword like “stillborn” triggering an ad break
— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) December 12, 2018
The expecting mother was due in January 2019. She wrote:
I know you knew I was pregnant. It’s my fault, I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags – #30weekspregant, #babybump. And, stupid me!, I even clicked once or twice on the maternity-wear ads Facebook served up.
However, Brockell went on to make the argument that while the companies focused on her earlier pregnancy-related posts and actions, they failed to track the death of her unborn child. She explained:
Didn’t you see me googling ‘is this braxton hicks?’ and ‘baby not moving?’
Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequencies user like me?
And then the announcement with keywords like ‘heartbroken’ and ‘problem’ and ‘stillborn’ and the two-hundred teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?
On November 30, the Washington Post video editor shared her heartbreaking news online.
Some sad personal news pic.twitter.com/ZkBOB7oqUq
— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) November 30, 2018
Since sharing her post, other social media users reported on similar experiences with advertisers. Commenters wrote:
Ten years ago, the amazing hospital where I delivered my stillborn daughter gave me instructions on how to stop all catalog mail, explaining that I would likely start receiving toy ads soon. I wish tech companies could figure that out. Hugs to your family.
The month of my due date, I received a free package from a formula company in the mail with a congratulatory note. I still don’t know how it was being tracked, but it nearly broke me. I had miscarried five months before.
The same thing happened to me on @Pinterest after we lost our preemie. It was awful. I’m sorry you’ve joined this club, but so thankful you’re using your voice to amplify this issue.
Last month, a mother of a stillborn girl wrote in an open letter to Facebook after she pushed a button to hide parenting and family-related ads.
Responding to the backlash, Facebook told BBC the issue was caused by a “bug in the system that has since been fixed.”
A representative from the social network responded to Brockell’s letter with a tweet.
I am so sorry for your loss and your painful experience with our products. We have a setting available that can block ads about some topics people may find painful – including parenting. It still needs improvement, but please know that we’re working on it & welcome your feedback.
— Rob Goldman (@robjective) December 12, 2018
The mother later tweeted that someone had personally reached out to her about her experience, but didn’t go into detail.
Facebook’s VP of advertising acknowledged that the system “needs improvement.”