by Stefanie

Are the gate keepers of innovation, blocking innovators? Facebook banned crypto ads. One month before launching Libra, their cryptocurrency, they lifted their ban on crypto ads. If Facebook is an ethical open platform, it is suspect that they imposed a ban until it directly benefited them.

In the early 2000s, tech platforms were the scrappy startups and innovators of their time. While many of the companies that emerged during the so-called “dot-com bubble” ultimately went down when the bubble burst, some survived.
Now, platforms like Google and Amazon, two prominent companies that emerged from the dot-com bubble, are joined by other platforms like Facebook and Twitter as the most notable brands and platforms in the world, collectively helping amplify today’s biggest trends.

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The Hypocrisy Behind Facebook Banning Crypto Ads

 

These companies serve as the gatekeepers of innovation and progress, creating pathways and implementing prohibitions in ways that are worth our attention and consideration. This is especially true for the nascent crypto industry that is continually becoming more popular and is indelibly shaped by the actions of these tech giants. 

In 2017, cryptocurrencies began making front-page headlines as their prices soared, and millions of people started investing in digital assets. 

At first, this burgeoning movement primarily pertained to Bitcoin, the first digital currency that had 86% market cap at the beginning of 2017. However, throughout the year, digital assets became more numerous as new startups released platforms and tokens that catered to increasingly diverse and niche crypto users. 

% of total market capitalization

Source-https://coinmarketcap.com/charts/#dominance-percentage

As a uniquely digital phenomenon, the crypto movement relied heavily on the tech institutions that, just a generation before, made their name by breaking the mold of traditional ways of doing business. Google, Facebook, Youtube, and other platforms were used to advertise, message, and locate new users. 

Despite the incredible expansiveness of the internet, just a few platforms control much of the messaging that reaches consumers. 

For instance, Google has more than two billion users, and the platform’s search engine field’s more than 63,000 search queries per second. The process is so prevalent that Google is as much a verb as it is a proper noun.

Even so, no tech platform is as prolific as Facebook. With a user base approaching three billion people, it’s the unparalleled content coordinator for the digital age. Between its customer-facing newsfeed, its popular Messages app, and its photograph focused app, Instagram, Facebook is reaching users around the world. The platform’s decisions about what constitutes acceptability, shareability, and usability make a meaningful mark on what messages spread and which ones die out.

Simply put, these tech platforms, and others like them, hold incredible sway over public opinion, information accessibility, and marketing initiatives. If companies can’t reach their audiences through these means, they have few opportunities for recourse or redirection. 

In January 2018, Facebook announced that it was banning advertising related to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. The ban was expansive, and it included Facebook, Instagram, and its Audience Network that sells ads on third-party apps. 

According to the company’s press release at the time, “Ads must not promote financial products and services that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices, such as binary options, initial coin offerings, or cryptocurrency.”

Facebook ban

Source-https://www.facebook.com/business/news/new-ads-policy-improving-integrity-and-security-of-financial-product-and-services-ads. Facebook added, “The policy is intentionally broad while we work to better detect deceptive and misleading advertising practices.” Similarly, Google, Snap, Twitter, and MailChimp all instituted crypto ad bans that effectively silenced nascent platforms, preventing them from reaching new audiences through digital advertising.

To be sure, this action blocked many bad actors from proliferating their brands, and it stymied the ridiculous “Crypto Genius” ads that are an embarrassment to the industry. 

Nevertheless, not everyone is a bad actor, and under the guise of consumer protection, these companies cut off one of the primary outreach avenues for new crypto startups, stifling the growth and opportunity that was afforded to these same tech startups just a decade before. 

In this case, Facebook’s early mantra to “move fast and break things,” can more aptly be interpreted as “move fast to stop innovation.”Incidentally, just a year after banning crypto ads on its platform, Facebook eased its restrictions on the practice. The news was welcomed by crypto developers who regained a prominent messaging apparatus for building their brand, but the timing is suspect. 

Just months later, Facebook announced its own digital currency, Libra, entering the space with a head start and a messaging campaign suited for the extensive advertising of the digital age. For many, this rightly feels like a contradiction, and, to an extent, it is. More importantly, it’s a reminder that, especially in the digital economy where attention is critical, decentralization is continually necessary. 

Tech companies will always want to stay relevant, and, now that they control the levers of power, they will work to maintain their prominence by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the crypto movement is wrestling control away, decentralizing connectivity to facilitate the next era of technological innovation. 

Big tech companies will continually try to stifle or join the next wave of innovation, but their success isn’t guaranteed. More and more, their fate lies with the decentralized user base that will comprise the decentralized future.