Aside from pockets ofovert racism, one of the more weirdly unpleasant corners of Twitter comes from its “promoted” content. What ostensibly started as a tool for big-name brands to drive the“reach” and “impact”of whatever message they might be promoting, it’s since devolved into another kind of marketing tool that’s just kind of…. weird. Not weird in thetracking-you-everywhere-you-gokind of way, but weird, in thejust plainweirdway.
Not unlike the bonkers hallucinations reported bypatients on death’s door, the spammy, click-baity, and sometimes downright disturbing promoted tweets cropping up onto people’s feeds are symptomatic of Twitter’s own ad platform rotting from the inside out.
Here’s a recent example: This week, freelance journalist Tyler Coates apparently had a grisly promo for an organ-buying service crop up onto his feed.
The fact that this cropped up in front of his face to begin with is indicative of howbadlythese ads are targeted in the first place. “Despite my cold, dead heart, I am not in the market for new organs,” Coates later told Gizmodo.
Understanding how broken Twitter’s system is requires a bit of context. Since being pressured to juice its promoted contentroughly half a decade ago, Twitter’s been, shall we say, “experimenting” with new ways topush that content in front of its user baseand milk those eyeballs for profit. At the same time, it’s beengradually limitingthe waysadvertisers can target the people who mightwantto see that content in the first place.
The result? Weird promoted tweets—about organs or otherwise—flooding people’s feeds.
Though the account running the human organ adshas since been suspended, it looks like the same person createdanother accountunder a similar name (which was also suspended). And they will likely just keep going.
In a statement to Gizmodo, a Twitter spokesperson said that this particular tweet violated the company’sUnacceptable Business Practicespolicy andInappropriate Contentpolicy.
“In general we have both humans and machines that review our content for policy compliance,” they added. “And, of course, we’re constantly investing in both our automated and human review processes and systems.”
Somehow, in spite of this careful content review, Twitter’s policing system for its own paid contentremains hopelessly broken—but it’s still making money off this broke-ass system. The platform hita record $1.47 billionin profits in 2019, despitesignsof tanking ad revenues as advertisers flooded other platforms, like Google and Facebook, which allow them to, well,actually targetthe people who might buy the product they’re selling.
That $1.47 billion has to come fromsomewhere; and whilethere’s still plenty of sweet branded cashpouring into the platform, Twitter’s ads are looking like a good bet for small-rate scammers. The sheer fact thatthere’s an accounton Twitteritselfdedicated to the weird promo phenomenon is almost like a testament to the money Twitter is ultimately making off offake news, bitcoin scams, and, apparently, “organ donors.”