Earlier this past month, some Facebook users reported seeing several ‘gay conversion’ ads appearing on their timeline. Moreso, they say the ads were designed to “shame” or “hurt” them.

Based on Facebook’s targeting algorithms, these ads were designed to target people who had “liked” Pages about gender identity, sexuality, and LGBTQ matters.

Some users clicked the “why am I seeing this” option Facebook has on their ads and they were told it was because they had expressed an online interest in “gender issues.”

Alystair Ryder, a user who saw the advertisement, said he felt "shaken" by it, adding that “it was written in a way to try to appeal to people who may be depressed or self-loathing due to their sexuality. I think it’s pretty irresponsible for Facebook to allow an advert that preys on gay men with mental health issues in such a negative way on their homepage.”

What is Conversion Therapy?  

Conversion therapy is a controversial practice that aims to convert or change gay, lesbian, and transgender people into being straight or cisgender.

Currently, the laws regarding conversion therapy are scattered at best, with each state having its own ruling on the practice. In some states, conversion therapy is legal, but it has to be the person’s choice to attend, meaning a parent can’t force a young child to attend against their will. In other states, it’s been banned altogether.

Currently, the scientific community has found little to no scientific evidence to support the belief that it’s possible to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s also gone so far as to say that the practice is much more harmful than helpful, as it confuses people (especially young adults) and shames them.

The Blurry Line of Marketing

This sparked another debate online: If a business is legal in a state, do marketers have the right to advertise to who they like? Or, do we have a moral obligation to protect children and young adults from a practice that the scientific community has declared ineffective and dangerous?

The advertisements have since been removed from Facebook.