Food for Thought

Facebook’s spiffy artificial intelligence algorithms are sold to authors as the way to market books. Through the magic of surgical audience targeting, only those people panting for an HEA/duke book/holiday novella/dystopian shifter erotic Amish dinosaur menage romance will see the ad, and golly Ned, they are going click on that thing like  frosting on a cupcake.

I question the precision of that targeting. Facebook shows me–for the most part–two  kinds of ads.

The first category of ad, which I see most frequently, is for fat lady underwear (or old lady underwear, designed by a 70-year-old grandma to hold up what needs holding up!). The message is blatant: You are saggy, fat, bulgy and not OK the way you are, but if you buy this magic pair of skivvies you will be able to hide your flaws.

Don’t get me started on the whole hopeless, lying psychology of consumerism.

The second category of ad, which makes me question whether higher primates had any hand in the design of the FB algorithm, is for diet-oriented meal delivery services. If there is one service I hope to never, ever, ever, ever avail myself of, it’s a diet meal delivery service.

I use a browser extension called Facebook Container and an ad tracker/blocker called Ghostery. In theory, FB doesn’t know all that much about what I get up to on the internet. I suspect these ads are the default ads for my age, gender, and stage, but still…

For many people, meal delivery services are life savers. Part of the problem for me is that people in my immediate family have eating disorders. Somebody (usually female) dies of an eating disorder in this country every 52 minutes, and as mental health diagnoses go, only an opioid addiction carries a greater risk of death. Nearly one in ten of us will suffer an eating disorder at some point in our lives, and those stupid ads–whether they are flashing chubby ta-tas in lavender lace or skinny people rhapsodizing about egg-free mushroom quinoa watercress quiche–are triggering as heck.

There’s another reason I get so bent out of shape about the meal delivery ads FB bombards me with. When I’m having a particularly hard-starting morning, I will make a cup of the International black breakfast tea my sister picked up for me in Williamsburg. I avoid caffeine generally, so this is a last resort, and it also calls to mind my sister’s thoughtfulness. That John Kelly fudge from my niece is another way to convey love.

Food means more to me than shoving some calories in my face so I won’t be hungry. It means connections, history, culture, pleasure, and in some ways as is intimate and personal as a favorite nightie. I don’t make a big deal out of meals and cooking, but I’m still aware of what I eat, and what a privilege it is to eat what I want, when I want it.

I want FB to stop hijacking what should be a social experience to paw with particular crudeness at my privacy. I know–too late for that Grace–but it helps me to understand why I am so howlingly offended by the algorithm’s misfire in my case.

Are there ads that drive you nuts? Ads you actually enjoy seeing? (Why doesn’t Facebook show me adds for horses and garden flowers?) No give away this week, but I will donate some funds to my state food bank. (Don’t tell Facebook.)





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

20 comments on “Food for Thought

  1. I hate the recipe videos FB foists on me. Not totally offensive exactly and not triggering but obnoxious for some reason. Now, I LOVE to cook and love to eat but these are not very appetizing to me. I have no idea how I got into this FB algorithm but every day I get at least two in my feed.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Grace!

  2. Here in the U K my favourite ad is for a bank.It features about six black horses galloping through a country park and many people come out to watch this beautiful spectical.The music playing is “Its only just began “by the carpenters.Being a bank it is targeting couples starting their lives together and perhaps needing financial assistance.My dislike of using body parts(hands feet legs arms) dancing about without a body and promoting some solution make feel sick.Perhaps I’m weird but whether it’s Facebook you tube or tv adverts the reaction is the same.Like you Grace fresh food menus delivered to your door are expensive and can end up taking over the households feeding habits.But the advert makes us believe that we are letting the family down if we don’t go for it.The trouble is “I’m old school”and still enjoy food when it is in season.I enjoy going out to purchase my weekly supply of rations and use the butchers and get my veg/fruit separately.I use the supermarket for the rest.I am lucky I can still do this .When the time comes that I can no longer do this I will have deliveries.Life changes.Take care one and all.

  3. I am not a part of facebook – nor have I ever wanted to be – so I can’t really address what goes on there.

    I see a lot of pop-ups on my computer but they don’t bother me. Most ads that I see are on TV. I’m house bound and live alone, so my TV is on a lot – even if I’m not watching it.

    The commercials that puzzle me most are the drug commercials for the big pharmaceutical companies. I know that they must be very expensive, because they are so long timewise. A good part of the commercial is spent listing all the scary side effects for the drug. Who are they aiming them at? It’s hard to believe that there are people who go to their doctors and ask specifically for the drug they saw on TV – the one with the side effects that can include DEATH. But I guess these people must exist.

    BTW, congrats on your latest bestseller. You are so good.

  4. I don’t get meal plan ads, probably because most of the FB pages I follow have to do with recipes, baking, etc. I’m sure FB knows how much I like to cook, so they don’t waste “clicks” on a service I obviously have no use for. The ads that bother me the most come via US Mail and are for nursing homes or cemeteries! I am “of a certain age” but don’t need frequent reminding of a possible future I dread. OTOH, maybe seeing them in my mailbox will remind me to get my steps in for the day!!! Happy Mother’s Day to one and all!!! Stay safe. Stay well!

  5. I don’t do much that puts me in the way of ads (on purpose) but when I watch anime with my daughter I usually get AARP, pharmaceutical, insurance ads. When my daughter watches alone she gets diet products and vacuum cleaners. My daughter has an eating disorder, and one thing that helps reduce getting the weight loss product ads is changing your gender to male in your profile. How’s that for infuriating?

    • Sarah,
      Once Veteran got in the system next to my name, to this day I get power tools & auto parts ads. Plus a lot of lawnmower & tractor. Nice to know how sexist it still is 30 years on.

  6. Unfortunately, FB has me tagged correctly. I get inundated with horrific animal rescue ads and ads for humane causes. I don’t know how to tell if these are legit causes or scams. I have researched some and picked a few to support but the number of these ads that show up in my feed each day are daunting. If there really are this many organizations out there saving abandoned and abused animals and providing relief to humans in crisis, I wonder that there is still a need at all. Shame on anyone who would scam funds in the name of a suffering human or animal. I know the need is real and based on the volume of ads I see, I know there are good hearted people who are sending their donations to scammers preying on their good hearts. I wish there was a BS option that worked similar to that familiar thumbs up icon we see all the time (I’d choose another finger for this one). Click on the BS option to warn others to steer clear, it’s a scam!

  7. This is a major part of why I left the Metaverse except for a couple friends who do monthly live feeds with comments from the audience & Messenger for the friends overseas who can’t realistically reach other “free” platforms for assorted reasons including regime censorship or monitoring. Sigh…

    I do watch YouTube as an alternative to TV because I can still control a decent percentage of what I want to watch. Because of my far flung network of friends, I get ads for everything from Indian skin lighteners (joins Grace with disgust for social pressure to be something else) + Bollywood films (my new secret vice), Asian cosmetics (Japanese makeup suits my Highlander coloring!), Indigenous protests in both Canada & Oz, Polish dash cam channels, & a luxury resort in the Maldives where a 10 day stay costs my annual income!

    So much for targeting algorithms & their much-vaunted accuracy.

  8. I have learned to (mostly) scroll quickly through Facebook ads.
    When playing my silly game that is fueled by ads, I have both phone and tablet on. When the game’s ad comes on, I switch focus to the other device until the ad is done and am so pleased with how I thwart the ad process.

  9. I usually go right past the annoying ad insertions as all I want to do is to catch up with the doings of my friends, relatives, people from my original home town, etc.

    The only one I was ever interested in was the one about chair exercises. I didn’t buy or subscribe to anything, though. I’m not sure how many people would actually buy anything when they only see it on FB.

    FaceBook Container sounds great but I don’t want to change browsers.

  10. First of all, the horse clothes nearly made me roll of the floor laughing.
    As for your question, ads that drive me bonkers are politics and anything violent–whether movies, videos, or people or animals being abused.. I always follow the prompt for things I find offensive. FB has finally have stopped sending me many. They are probably cogitating in their confused computery brains on a new raft of offensive ads.
    My favorite ads are for catteries, but I always object to any PSAs that show cruelty to animals.
    My second favorite ads are for the various yummy-looking food ads. If I’ve gotten a lot of watercress and whole buckwheat salad, it hasn’t really registered. Since we mercifully are not prone to eating disorders in my family, I’ve always found the ads fascinating in a hideous way.
    I am so sorry you have that running through your family. It’s terrible to see loved ones be so ill from various mental and/or behavioral illnesses.
    And Happy Mothers Day!

  11. I am fond of animal rescue stuff, also the funny animals stuff. I try my best to ignore the adds and if I am interested in something I try copying the web address to check out later without the FB link. I kind of like that my friend who runs a dog rescue can do a fund raiser through FB, The birthday ones are nice too.

  12. I don’t use Facebook much, and then only for local news; missing and found pets, “Shirl, your cows are out,” “What’s that black cloud up the lake?” I subscribe to a local gardening group that is moderated severely to stay on topic. It doesn’t seem too subject to ads of any sort yet.

    My gripe is the algorithms used by Pinterest. To start with, I went on Pinterest to see what was trending in the world. Now it’s carefully and horribly tailored to “my” interests. Now that they know exactly where I live, I sometimes even get local advertising, which always stuns me.

    A group of us share a Zoom account. The couple using it to host the church service today couldn’t get on because we were out of the country. Seventy miles away, but out of the country. And the account knew it. It’s scary.

    Eating disorders are horrible, horrible. Both my husband and I have family members who suffer from them. We’re either fat or emaciated. There seems to be no middle ground.

    Happy Mothers’ Day and, if you haven’t watched it yet, catch Rich Strike’s run at the Kentucky Derby. It couldn’t have been better unless he’d been wearing pyjamas.

  13. I despise the FB ads. However, I’m not willing to pay for FB or Twitter or Instagram, so I’m stuck with the ads. I use AdBlocker when I can, bt it’s not very useful. Sigh.

    • These are called “slinkies,” and they serve several purposes. They can protect the horse from flies, keep a show horse clean, and make them easier to spot in the pasture at night. They aren’t meant to be warm, though they do look cozy!

  14. Egg-free mushroom quinoa watercress quiche?!?!?! Oh my! Pretty funny, plus the horses all look rather embarrassed in their outfits! Very good post – but I have NEVER done Facebook, or TikTok or any of them. I just always felt they were kind of soul sucking and sleazy. So I see very few ads, which is good. I haven’t turned on my tv in at least a month, so I’m no help there either. I live mostly in Regency England I suppose.

    Thank you for Ned’s book. Now I have to go back and reread all the others. Will Joshua Penrose ever get his happy ending?

    Thanks as always, for all you do.

  15. I originally left a comment on Saturday night but it seems to have disappeared. But that’s okay, it probably wasn’t very coherent or cogent anyway. The important thing I forgot to say is I kind of think all those animals in pajamas are cute. I don’t know how they feel about it but the bright colors just cheered me up!

  16. I would LOVE to see ads with horses in sweaters, cats, kittens, puppies, dogs, and well, you get the picture. Instead facebook feels the need to show me political ads – mostly for people who will never win my vote – and a random assortment of foods or household items.

    Thanks for donating to the food bank!