Grieving mother taunted by Facebook baby adverts

The mother of a stillborn baby has criticised Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Experian for their deployment of insensitive ads in the wake of the death of her son. Gillian Brockwell was left distressed after being inundated with baby-related online advertising after her baby died in the womb.

Grieving mother taunted by Facebook baby adverts

The bereaved penned an open letter addressed to “Tech Companies”, contending that the sophistication of their algorithms should have flagged her loss to them, allowing them to alter their advertising strategy accordingly.

“I know you knew I was pregnant,” she wrote. “I just couldn’t resist those Instagram hashtags – #30weekspregnant, #babybump.” The grieving mother went on to “concede” that, yes, she clicked on maternity-wear ads on Facebook, and revealed her due date to Amazon when signing up for a registry. “You probably saw me googling “holiday dress maternity plaid” and “babysafe crib paint,” she wrote.

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However, when Ms Brockwell made it similarly clear she had lost her child, the sites failed to pick up on it. Digital evidence of her loss was considerable: last month the bereaved shared on Twitter the news that her son had died in the womb. Keywords in her posts, meanwhile, included terms such as “heartbroken”, “problem” and even “stillborn”, garnering hundreds of “tear drop” emoticons from friends.


An active social media user, Ms Brockwell also suggested that her three days’ radio silence from the platforms should have indicated something was wrong: “Did you not see the three days of silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me?” she asked.

Instead of apprehending the tragedy, Facebook and its peers continued to plague her with advertising that had been deployed in the earlier stages of her pregnancy. The situation was compounded when Ms Brockwell received an email from Experian, nudging her to “finish registering your baby” – a registration she was never able to start.

“I implore you,” Ms Brockwell’s letter concludes, “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.”

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The potential magnitude of the problem is substantial; there are 26,000 stillbirths per year in the US alone. In places where healthcare access is not so readily available, the rate is much higher. Combine this tragic reality with the ubiquity of social media, and the scope for sites to inflict emotional pain, however unwittingly, is considerable.

For its part, Facebook has pledged further work. The site’s advertising chief Rob Goldman was one of the first executives to respond, pointing out that the site’s settings included an option to block adverts about potentially upsetting topics. “It still needs improvement, but please know we’re working on it,” he said.

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