Washington Post video editor Gillian Brockell exposed the potential for the cruel impacts of targeted marketing through a social media post on Wednesday, pointing to the flaws in algorithms used by big tech and big credit firms following the birth of her stillborn baby.
What are the details?
In an open letter to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Experian, Brockell questioned why the companies target advertising to expectant mothers, but then continue their marketing after birth under the assumption that all went well during the delivery.
Brockell posted her message via Twitter on Wednesday, initially saying, "It's all my fault" for clicking on posts that hinted to the tech firms that she was pregnant. But the editor went on to ask why the companies' marketing departments didn't pick up on her Google searches signaling alarm over the child's well-being. Ultimately, her son was stillborn, yet she subsequently received advertisements for nursing bras, strollers, and tips for getting an infant to sleep through the night.
An open letter to @Facebook, @Twitter, @Instagram and @Experian regarding algorithms and my son's birth: pic.twitter.com/o8SuLMuLNv
— Gillian Brockell (@gbrockell) December 11, 2018
"You see, there are 26,000 stillbirths in the U.S. every year," Brockell wrote. "And millions more among your worldwide users; and let me tell you what social media is like when you finally come home from the hospital with the emptiest arms in the world, after you've spent days sobbing in bed, and pick up your phone for a couple minutes of distraction before the next wail."
"It's exactly, crushingly, the same as it was when your baby was still alive," the editor explained. "Pea in the Pod. Motherhood Maternity. Latched Mama. Every goddamn Etsy tchotchke I was planning for the nursery."
Brockell concluded her message by saying, "Please, Tech companies, I implore you: If you're smart enough to realize that I'm pregnant, that I've given birth, then surely you're smart enough to realize that my baby died, and can advertise to me accordingly, or maybe just maybe, not at all."
While targeted advertising has been seen as invasive by critics for years, Brockell's message called for online marketers to step up their calculations to recognize more than just dollar signs. Several of Brockell's Twitter followers responded to her message by sharing stories of their own stillborn children.