A woman has penned an open letter to Instagram because she’s sick of seeing adverts for bras. But, her piece has raised an important question about Instagram’s algorithm and whether we can do anything to alter the ads in our feeds?
In a Medium post entitled “Towards a bra-free Instagram experience”, Lauren Hallden—who works as a product designer in Philadelphia—put a question to Instagram: “Does your company collect any user feedback from women?” The reason for this question is because Hallden says the sponsored content in her Instagram feed is “kind of one-note” as it only shows her photos of women working out in sports bras.
This is problematic for Hallden because she says that she is wasting “a ton of mental energy” comparing herself to the women featured in the ads. “I’ve started feeling like maybe you don’t realize what being exposed to an endless string of half-naked, extremely thin women is doing to people like me?” wrote Hallden.
Despite taking steps to get rid of the ads, Hallden understands why she’s being served them. “And I get why: somewhere, an algorithm has (correctly) identified that I do yoga,” she writes.
Mashable reached out to Instagram and was initially pointed in the direction of Instagram’s ads help page. They later send this statement: “We want to ensure our community have the best ads experience possible and only see ads from businesses that are interesting and relevant to them. You can hide an ad you’d rather not see in Feed or Stories when in-app. Also, if you make a choice in your Facebook ad preferences and ads settings, this will be respected on the ads you see on Instagram.”
The help page says: “You might see ads based on the people you follow and things you like on Instagram, your information and interests on Facebook (if you have a Facebook account) and the websites and apps you visit.”
Users can hide ads that they don’t like by tapping the menu item followed by “Hide This.”
However, Hallden says that she’s been marking the ads as “not relevant,” and despite her actions, she’s still being shown similar ads.
In addition to believing these ads to be “triggering” and bad for “overall mental health” and self-worth, Hallden thinks that the “sheer quantity” of the ads sends a message about “our value as women in the world. And, in her experience, she feels “there isn’t really a way to opt out of it.”
“I’m not sure how well marking things as “not relevant” works,” Hallden told Mashable. She says she started hiding ads a few months ago, she’s also tried hitting “I see this too often” and she’s even gone through Facebook and removed any ad categories related to weight loss.
“I’m still getting ads featuring women working out in bras this morning,” says Hallden. But, it’s not the “working out” that she objects to. “The thing is, Facebook and Instagram aren’t WRONG — I do like yoga and fitness!” She says it’s the quantity of the ads, and the fact that they “almost always” feature “bodies of thin, young, partially-clothed white women” to sell her things.
“What I’m trying to point out is that that body image is a sensitive issue for tons of people, and we should acknowledge that by giving people easier ways to opt out of ad content that’s borderline #thinspiration,” she continues.
Hallden isn’t the only person experiencing issues with their ad experience on Instagram. Diana Villegas, a PR manager based in Paris, says that marking Instagram ads as not relevant “didn’t really work” in her experience. “I was targeted by a company that sold watches “for a limited time” for “heavily reduced prices”. It was a scam and it annoyed me that Instagram would allow those types of ads,” Villegas told Mashable. She says she marked it as not relevant and blocked the company. To her chagrin, she then began seeing similar ads from different companies “selling low-quality watches with the same marketing strategy.”
Villegas experiences the same issue with ads for high-end fashion brands. “There are some brands I don’t like being targeted because they are above my price range eg. Dior,” she says. But, when she marks those ads as not relevant, she then sees ads for other “high-priced couture fashion brands like Chanel.”
And Richard Hayer, who works in advertising, says he’s constantly shown ads about tech, mountain bikes and clothing accessories. He says he marks around 80 percent of the ads he sees as not relevant, and he’s tried hitting “I see it too often” as well; none of which has made a difference.
So, what exactly can users do when they’re being served ads that are irrelevant, or even upsetting? No information is provided on the help page regarding the impact of marking ads as “not relevant” and it’s unclear if this action makes any alteration to Instagram users’ ad preferences.
But, Instagram’s ad help page does mention that any choices made in your “ad preferences” and “ads settings” on Facebook will be respected and carried through into the ads you see on Instagram. Sadly, this option isn’t open to Instagram users who aren’t on Facebook. However, Instagram users who do use Facebook can select ad topics to hide in their Settings. It’s worth noting that Facebook caveats that users “may still see ads related to this topic.”
Moral of the story? If you don’t like your Instagram ads, you might need to venture over to Facebook to find a solution.
UPDATE: Jan. 3, 2018, 5:01 p.m. GMT Added statement from Instagram.