Aside from pockets of overt 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 the tracking-you-everywhere-you-go kind of way, but weird, in the just plain weird way.
Not unlike the bonkers hallucinations reported by patients 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 how badly these 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 content roughly half a decade ago, Twitter’s been, shall we say, “experimenting” with new ways to push that content in front of its user base and milk those eyeballs for profit. At the same time, it’s been gradually limiting the ways advertisers can target the people who might want to 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 ads has since been suspended, it looks like the same person created another account under 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’s Unacceptable Business Practices policy and Inappropriate Content policy.
“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 content remains hopelessly broken—but it’s still making money off this broke-ass system. The platform hit a record $1.47 billion in profits in 2019, despite signs of tanking ad revenues as advertisers flooded other platforms, like Google and Facebook, which allow them to, well, actually target the people who might buy the product they’re selling.
That $1.47 billion has to come from somewhere; and while there’s still plenty of sweet branded cash pouring into the platform, Twitter’s ads are looking like a good bet for small-rate scammers. The sheer fact that there’s an account on Twitter itself dedicated to the weird promo phenomenon is almost like a testament to the money Twitter is ultimately making off of fake news, bitcoin scams, and, apparently, “organ donors.”