Facebook said I was the target audience for far-right groups that pine for an Antebellum South and preach the virtues of white supremacy and eugenics.
I discovered this when I went to Settings/Ads/YourInterests on Facebook and saw the types of ads the social media site though I might be most interested in seeing when I log in to check up on friends, post a photo or click “Like” on something.
There were some surprises that I didn’t like.
I discovered an ad category labeled “Far-right politics,” which showed examples of ads created by groups trying to reach their target audience, an audience that apparently includes me. Facebook said “other criteria” influences advertisers sending these ads to people like me. But Facebook didn’t elaborate.
One ad, from Baxter Troutman for Commissioner of Agriculture. said “TURN OFF THE LIBERAL MEDIA” in all-cap white letters embedded in a red banner.
Troutman is a Florida citrus grower campaigning to become the state’s next agriculture commissioner. He is the grandson of the old Florida citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., a towering figure in Florida politics, business and philanthropy. Griffin was a grower and a conservative Democrat in the Florida Legislature for many years, and the stadium at the University of Florida is named after him thanks to his generous support of education and athletics.
Baxter is running this year against a crowded field of Republicans, and by the looks of his ad his campaign he is borrowing heavily from the Trump playbook.
OK. I lived in the Sunshine State for a long time. I graduated from the University of Florida. I cheered for the Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Troutman doesn’t appear to be a wing nut, although he does apparently aspire to be a mini-Trump.
More disturbingly, I discovered I also was targeted by an ad from FAIR, The Federation for American Immigration Reform. The ad included a video praising President Trump and asking me to sign a petition to “Secure Our Borders!”
FAIR wants a border wall, and FAIR also wants to stamp out legal immigration. The group has ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. White supremacists AND eugenicists. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, sympathizes with racists and people who want to sterilize or gas anyone they deem undesirable.
Here is a scary quote from Tanton, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, “As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”
I discovered that I was targeted by a murky Facebook group called “Cautious Optimism,” which presents itself as a voice of reason. But it turns out the group’s leader is a Trump apologist who is on that gun-rights bandwagon of folks convinced it is Christian to ridicule students who survived the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and now have the gall to demand schools where they won’t be gunned down.
I also got a sly ad intended to discredit Oklahoma teachers who have been rallying for better salaries. The group, OK United, was founded by a major GOP political operatives in D.C., Matt Leonardo. Leonardo is one of those hired-gun consultants who promotes super PACs, rakes in dark money and runs advocacy campaigns from the shadows.
The Oklahoma news website Red Dirt Report (love the name), did some nice digging to expose the not-very-Oklahoma-grassroots origins of OK United, Leonardo’s latest project.
Facebook also thought I was interested in ads about the Confederate States of America, a category that lumps history buffs in with alt-right hate groups that like to march, carry torches and chant Nazi slogans like blood and soil.
One ad stood out. A group called The Abbeville Institute wanted me buy shirts and caps embroidered with the group’s logo. Polos are no really my style, and neither is the group’s mission.
The organization says it supports Southern traditions and scholarship. The Abbeville Institute is named after the South Carolina birthplace of John C. Calhoun, who was vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Calhoun also was an ardent defender of slavery and states’ rights, the powder keg issues that sparked the start of the Civil War in Charleston Harbor.
The Chronicle of Higher Education says the Abbeville Institute is made up of college professors who are sensitive about being labeled racist and see the organization as a safe place to study the “virtues of secession.”
I’m all for Southern scholarship and heritage and culture. But Southern culture is not just the culture and heritage of white folks feeling nostalgic for plantation life and slave labor. Hey, Abbeville Institute, Martin Luther King Jr. was Southern, too. So was Zora Neale Hurston. I love Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. But I also love Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters.
In the end, I blocked most of what Facebook said were my ad preferences. I really don’t want to be anybody’s target audience. It’s good that Facebook gives me an opt-out I guess. But I’m not happy about how Facebook collects so much data about me and then monetizes that knowledge to target me with ads that promote hate and intolerance.
I could quit Facebook, but I doubt that would make a difference. Many of us go to Facebook to craft our perfect little online story one vacation photo at a time. It’s an illusion, of course, assisted by a social media platform with a business model supported — at least in part — by ads from dark places.