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Google and Facebook’s Misconceived Ban on Bail Bond Ads

Google’s director of global product policy announced the company’s decision to prohibit ads that promote bail bond services in a blog post on May 8th. Facebook made a similar claim later that same day, although the company is apparently still working out the details.

These decisions come as part of the growing bail reform movement, whose proponents claim that the U.S. bail system unfairly affects low-income detainees, making it harder for them to get out of jail before trial.

Why Google and Facebook Are Targeting Bail Bonds Ads

Google and Facebook are positioning themselves against the U.S. bail system in order to champion themselves as instigators of social change.

Google’s blog post quotes the executive director of the Essie Justice Group, which works to end the harm mass incarceration can cause to women and communities, as saying that “[t]his is the largest step any corporation has taken on behalf of the millions of women who have loved ones in jails across the country.”

The companies paint bail bond services in a similarly negative light, Google claiming that the ban serves to “keep misleading or harmful ads off of [their] platforms,” and Facebook that “[a]dvertising that is predatory doesn’t have a place” on its site.

Google’s statement also references studies that “show that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low-income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable, including through opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years.”

The National Review Responds to the Attack on Bail Bonds

The National Review published an article in response to the tech giants’ claims, explaining why “[r]efusing these ads is no way to help people or reform the system.”

One of the article’s points is that banning ads for bail bond services doesn’t help women — or anyone — get their loved ones out of jail. If bail bonds are eliminated as an option, cash bail becomes the only alternative, meaning that low-income arrestees are even more likely to stay incarcerated while awaiting trial.

The National Review goes on to question how bail bonds could be construed as “harmful” or “predatory.” “[O]nce a judge has set cash bond in the first place,” the article points out, “it’s hard to take seriously a claim that helping families meet that requirement must inevitably involve deceit or harm.” The truth is that bail bonds tend to benefit — not hurt — those who can’t meet cash bail requirements, giving them more options to await trial in their own homes.

The article also refutes the insinuation that bail bonds target and exploit minority and low-income communities: “If most arrestees who cannot post bail from their own resources are from low-income or minority communities, then that is the market bail bonds are destined to serve.” Opposing bail bond services does nothing to alleviate the real issues at hand: that the too-high bail prices discriminate against those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and that minorities are arrested at a disproportionately high rate.

Are Bail Bond Options Obscure?

The assertion that bail bond agencies use obscure options that keep people in debt is equally doubtful.

All City Bail Bonds offers flexible financing options, accepting collateral of many sorts so that our clients don’t have to borrow money or sell their belongings.

All City also never charges more than the standard Washington State premium set by the Washington Department of Insurance. This fee is common, and allows family-owned and -operated agencies to stay in business and continue to provide the personalized service people need in such stressful circumstances.

Google’s ban on bail bond service ads is set to begin in July 2018, with Facebook’s plan still ambiguous. Google also recently cosponsored an event with Koch Industries to discuss how to best reform the U.S. bail system.