I feel compelled to share my experience with anyone who may read this. Female founders and small business owners especially who may relate but, in a time of political upheaval, racial injustice, and a pandemic of Biblical proportions, fear such proclamations trivial and ill-timed.
As a small business founder, I created a Facebook business account out of necessity — to be able to promote my hard-earned, one-woman shop on Instagram.
For those who may not know, Instagram’s promotional features are only enabled through Facebook, which means that in order to run an ad or promote a post, a Facebook business account must be created.
When I launched my business Molly T. in late 2018, I was reluctant to join the platform whose grievances are too long to list, determined to grow “organically” like the good old pre-monetization days.
But as growth slowed and customer inquiries continued to mount about in-app purchase options through Instagram, the choice of not having a Facebook page was clearly a delusion: if I wanted to thrive and keep up with the times and demands of customers, I had no choice.
In attempting to set up the requisite Facebook Shop to activate ads on Instagram, Molly T.’s patented sports bra design was rejected for being “sexually explicit.”
At first I thought this was an oversight, that as soon as I submitted my appeals form, Facebook would recognize their error, approve my tastefully photographed product and lifestyle shots featuring Molly T. adorned by three women in workout gear, and I’d be off to the Instagram races.
But no one got back to me within the 48-hour window allotted by Facebook to provide me with an update, or anytime after that. Instead, I was met with slight variations of my original rejection for reasons like:
“Your product wasn’t approved by Facebook because your image is overly sexual, implies nudity, shows excessive amount of skin or cleavage, or focuses unnecessarily on body parts.”
How could the showcase of cleavage when modeling a sports bra -- which, you can see for yourself, was hardly any more “excessive” than the next bra or lingerie company -- be deemed “unnecessary”? Molly T. is a sports bra. It holds breasts.
After countless failed attempts to appeal this rejection with no logical explanation, the only conclusion as to why I was being denied was the use of the word “breasts” in Molly T.’s product description:
“Molly T.'s patented design provides customizable compression directly over your breasts to match your fitting needs as they change.”
Alexa Tietjen at WWD explains how Facebook and Instagram’s advertising policies notoriously prevent female self-care brands like VSpot (women’s sexual health), Billie (women’s shaving), and Dame (women’s vibrators and sex toys) from accessing wider audiences through advertising.
And then there’s this brilliant exclusive from Salty who found in their investigation into algorithmic injustice on Facebook and Instagram that “every single policy explicitly states that women are the target of the policies...there are literally no policies pertaining to nudity or swimwear for men’s bodies in advertising.”
Even armed with this incontrovertible insight, I was determined to find a workaround, get my store approved by the Evil Empire Facebook and ultimately build the business I had given blood, sweat, tears and more money than I care to admit.
And I did — by self-censorship.
I figured out a way to replicate my store on Shopify -- a dummy store, essentially -- where I removed any mention of the word “breasts” and finally, the shop was approved.
But my newly granted permission to promote on Instagram was met with even more frustration and anger.
Posts I paid to promote Molly T. and reach new audiences were liked by those who already followed me.
One time I wasn’t notified the word “breast” was removed from a campaign pertaining not only to bras but to breast cancer awareness. I only realized when the ad was live, after Facebook took my money and ran the campaign with a missing word that looked sloppy, careless, and rendered it ineffective.
What really grates my nerves is how the company predicated on “the power to build community and bring people together” has nary a human in sight - not a customer service rep or automated chatbot - when non-legacy (read: small) brands and individuals need help.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that I noticed Molly T. has once again been banned - without notification - due to the same unsubstantiated, outwardly sexist rationale. I don’t want a partner like you, and I’m embarrassed I tried to make it work after so much rejection.
But your monolithic stranglehold makes it nearly impossible not to at least try and comply if a small business like mine is to stand a chance.
So while this won’t so much as register considering nearly 1,000 mainstream companies have been ignored by Facebook in their demands for stricter policies, today I’m doing what I did with my personal account before #DeleteFacebook was even a thing, and I am deleting my business account too.
You’re not too small, my fellow small business owners, to #StopHateForProfit and #DeleteFacebook, forever.