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I’m banned for life from advertising on Meta. Because I teach Python.

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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  • John Morrison says:

    Facebook is indescribably stupid about the context of content. They seem to do a keyword search for certain “hot button” terms and ban based on that. When you exclude human judgement from the process, what you get is sheer crap.

  • Hey Reuven, this blew up on HNews – which is how I saw it. I think Meta might even have a human review for appeals, but given the original AI assessment was done prior to data retention – the human had no evidence to review – and it could be their policy that in such cases they err conservatively.

    Just putting it out there – GDPR complicates things to some extent here.

  • Sorry to hear this, Reuven. The automated ban without any human checks used by various companies is absolutely crazy. Our @PythonWeekly twitter account got banned all of a sudden without any reason and I tried to get a human to look into it and reinstate it, but every time I opened a support case, it got closed automatically with a cookie cutter nonsense reply. Nobody at twitter looked in to what and why it happened. I can understand the pain here. 🙁

  • I don’t know, seems like if you get this worked out, your courses would be the perfect cover for an exotic animals side gig. Looks like there’s also a Python package named Cheetah you could leverage to expand your, er, offerings.

  • Reuven, nice post, but:
    – if you’d still like to try solving your ads account problem
    – and if this account is owned by you as natural person and not your company
    – and if you are an EU resident
    – then write to Meta’s privacy team and ask to receive all data they have on you related to this based on art 15 GDPR, and how automated decission making, including profiling you, was applied based on art 22 GDPR.

    I know there are a lot of ifs, but this is an easy to pick legal solution. They have to reply in 30 days. P.S. Meta is known for hundred of millions in fines under GDPR.

    • An excellent idea… but I don’t live in the EU. Oh, well.

  • They need to be shamed. Write a letter (or column) to the CACM.

  • I also got banned for “selling live animals” due to advertising an online butchers. To be fair I was selling parts of animals, but they were most certainly no longer live. After a frustrating six months of trying to speak with an intelligent human I finally gave up.

    • I assure you it’s more likely to contact Biological Algorithm Interpreter instead of an actual intelligent human and these aren’t much more helpful than bots

  • I was banned from Marketplace, appealed, and received the permanent ban message. However, the “submit an appeal” option returned after about 48 hours. So every other day I would submit another appeal. After about 30 appeals, my Marketplace account was reinstated.

  • Any good solution to getting banned or ads getting suspended on Facebook now Meta. Anyone do really have a solution to this. I have been having similar issues for well over a couple of months now

    • This seems to be a very common problem. The solution seems to be to spend tons of money on Facebook ads before you get banned, so that you have a human contact to whom you can appeal. Which means that for small businesses like mine.. oh, well!

  • I also had that problem with facebook because I was selling “weapons and drugs”. Even though none of my posts came close to that. Turns out the post that got me was a bread recipe.

    • Well, we have heard that carbs are dangerous…

    • Worth noting that 95% of criminals are regular consumers of bread, most of which had bread in their system at the time of their arrest.

  • I had a similar issue advertising parts for a Polaris Slingshot – which is a vehicle, because it violated the ban on selling weapons. 🙄

    • That is fantastic. (As an example, not for your sale of auto parts…)

  • throwaway says:

    Saw your article; its always horrible when companies think they can get away with coercive behavior like this. Have you spoken with a lawyer about this? I’m not a lawyer but it seems like this should be at least a case of tortious interference, if not more solidly on antitrust, since they claim to only act as the middleman for the people who actually purchase those ads. Given their position in the marketplace, why not at the bare minimum file complaints with your states OAG or the FTC?

    This effectively is banning a small business from the marketplace with no due process, and that should carry at least some liability for the act.

    • I highly doubt that there’s anything legally actionable about this. They don’t have to take my money, and they don’t have to let me advertise on their platform.

  • Nice to know that the appeals are reviewed (likely) by the same bot that hands out the bans.

    Or maybe the appeal bot is just an autoreply: “After careful…”

  • Brendan Keefe says:

    My sympathies, of course. But I admit I can’t help but laugh at the boneheadedness of Meta’s bots and policies, and it strikes me as just as well that you’ll be spending your advertising dollars elsewhere. Good luck!

    P.S. I hope all else is well with you, during these troubled times in your country, or at least as well as possible.

    • Brendan Keefe says:

      P.P.S. Another aspect of the hilarity is how heavily Python is used at Meta …

    • I know, it’s just hilarious… and yet, it definitely points to some weird and disturbing issues that AI brings to the table.

      As for the situation in Israel: Thanks for the well wishes; we’re doing OK, but I think that many tough days are ahead of us. Sigh.

  • My gmail account was once suspended without explanation. I had only used it for about 1 month and had only used it to sign up for an account on github.

    Luckily the appeal was successful although without explanation once again. I assume google made a mistake.

  • mrpops2ko says:

    whats fascinating about all of this is that the people who should be able to make changes, have been hamstrung in capacity to be autonomous decision makers / arbiters of genuine mistakes. As we go forward into an ever more AI assisted world, we need more autonomy in decision making for correcting errors – not less.

  • I got entirely banned off Facebook a little over a year ago for something a hacker did even though they detected the hack and warned me. No way to appeal – just summary deletion of an account with about 40 friends and a 10 year record of good behaviour. I never bothered trying to creat another account as I decided I was better off without it.

    • You might indeed be better off without Facebook! But that should be your choice, not that of a poorly informed robot.

  • You posted plenty of screenshots, yet omitted the actual ads in question. Can you add those to the article?

    • I just checked, and I don’t have any full-on ads still there. Looks like I deleted them at some point — or they were so old that they were automatically deleted. (I dunno if Meta does that.)

      The only ads that I currently see in my ads manager are several promoted posts from my Facebook page, including one that has a headline, “Level up your coding skills with Weekly Python Exercise,” along with a video in which I talk to the camera about how important it is to improve your Python skills through practice.

  • I’m not sure google is any better. They probably have a similar system where appeals are also handled by AI.
    Our ad extensions ( site links, lead forms ) were randomly rejected sometimes and when we appealed some of them were approved while others that have the same text , links, etc were not and our account managers said there’s nothing they can do about it.

    • Google might not be better, except that (from what I understand) you can eventually get to a human if you really need.

  • Suminda Dharmasena says:

    We need to look at options to enact law where you can make an appeal to an human who can review it and also the effected user can get the relevant information for arbitration or legal action.

  • Fellow Python Person says:

    500 words to say what could have been said in a single sentence. SEO optimization at it’s best going on here.

    • Actually, I’m just long-winded in general.

      • As a fellow long-winded writer, I appreciated your writing and your story (and am appropriately horrified). There’s a difference–dare I say a human difference–between an idea squeezed into a tweet or a headline, versus real writing painting a picture. Of course, I’m older than 22 and would like the world to get off my lawn.

    • Tom Gilson says:

      Really? I’d love to see you try. I am a professional editor. It’s business every day correct writers’ long-windedness. This piece didn’t strike me as needed any such work done on it. It’s not quite clean enough for a professional publication, but it doesn’t have to be: It only has to be clean enough for the context in which it was published.

      Virtually every article can be condensed down to a single short thesis statement. Your snark here is therefore true, but trivially so, since you could copy and paste it as a comment under virtually every article on the internet without even bothering to read it.

      (Honestly, I half wonder if that’s what you did here.)

      What cannot be done in a single sentence is to convey any human-like sense of story, the progress of events over time, emotions felt along the way, the evidence of Meta’s continuing wrong-doing, or the silly ironies of their inane responses.

      If you think none of that matters, then I would have to wonder something else: Whether you yourself are human, or another AI yourself.

      If you are indeed human, I hope you will decide to take humanness into account before you copy and paste the same sort of snark under anyone else’s article. It’s up to you, obviously. But for your sake and others’, I do hope so.

    • Your comment needs optimization:

      (1) SEO optimization
      (2) it’s

      Please edit.

  • Lucyb3268 says:

    Word of warning, Google are no better.

    • Yeah, that’s almost certainly true.

      That said, when friends and family have had problems with various Google products, they’ve eventually managed to get to a person. I’ve tried for months, and even asked Meta employees for help, and nothing worked.

      But hey, we’ll see…

  • If they don’t have the evidence any more, why do they pretend you can ask for review?
    Also, you’re right there isn’t “nothing to be done”. You can sue them. You know, in an actual court of law, where having no evidence to back up defamatory claims is not a good look.

    • Sue them for what? I don’t think that they’re under any obligation to let me pay them for advertising. They can set whatever rules they want on their platform, even if those rules are completely silly.

      • I think once you are done setting up on their service, you and the service provider have entered a contract.
        You pay for ads and he runs the ads.
        If you had an advertising contract and they didnt run the ads for the full duration which you paid for then they didnt honor their contract terms (for legitimate reason they believe). Now if you sue them for illegitimate breach of contract they ought to prove that you violated their terms and thus they had legitimate reason to terminate the contract.
        If they are unable to prove that they should be liable for the damages.

      • throwaway says:

        Chris is right. There are legal options, and digital business records must be kept just as long as physical records (speaking from experience as an E-discovery IT administrator). If they failed to retain those records for the required retention period it could be a slamdunk in court. Usually its 2-5 years that it must be retained, but there are certain categories that must be kept for the entire life of the entity and actions taken must be properly noticed.

        As I mentioned elsewhere tortious interference of a contract, possibly, or remedy under the Sherman Act might be places to start a discussion with a qualified attorney. You’re a small business, you have rights.

        Obviously I’m not an attorney, but I’ve worked alongside quite a few of them in litigious business sectors.

        • I was only charged for ads that ran. It was only 1-2 years after I ran those ads that Facebook stopped me. And it was only a year or so later that I cared enough to appeal, and was denied.

          If I had paid for ads that were never displayed, I would perhaps agree with you. But they’re forbidding me from advertising in the future, not withholding services that I had already paid for.

  • – “you’re banned for life”
    – “why?”
    – “we forgot…”

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}