Facebook learned that the hard way last week. After failed attempts to get the social network to remove pages glorifying violence against women, feminist activists waged a digital media campaign that highlighted marketers whose ads were found alongside those pages. Nissan and several smaller advertisers temporarily removed their ads from the site.
Amid mounting public pressure, Facebook acknowledged that its systems to identify and remove such content had not worked effectively and promised to improve those processes. The company began removing the pages in question.
The episode underscored a conundrum for social media sites forged from the philosophy that free speech should thrive on the Internet: will they be able control content created by their users, so that advertisers are not embarrassed by material beyond their control?
“Certainly advertisers have a singular purpose, they want to reach consumers in a positive way,” said David Reuter, the vice president for corporate communications at Nissan Americas. “It is up to the social companies to create an environment that provides that level of support and safety for the companies.” Advertising on Social Media Comes Up Against Free Speech
The title of this article has since been changed to: The Distasteful Side of Social Media Puts Advertisers on Their Guard.
I saved the link and the text, waiting for the confusion to clear before I posted my thoughts. Here I am, five or six days later and either the confusion hasn't cleared or I was right the first time I read this article.
Facebook's claim to fame was its ability to generate ads. Anyone on any site can generate ads. Facebook carried its claim into Big Brother targeted accuracy by mining all the data we, its members offered for free, to Facebook as we shared it with each other. A treasure trove of likes and dislikes and conversations and threads and pages and fans and members and inter-related conversations...all for free. Behind the scenes their vast array of coders and algorythms would churn out precise targets for advertisers who would pay premium dollars to display their ads in front of Facebook subjects, er members, who met very precise criteria.
A whole new world awaited us all: advertisers and consumers. The promise, if delivered, would be mutually satisfying. Sure, as consumers we would continue to be interrupted; but we would be interrupted with ads for products and services meaningful to our lives. Advertisers would find the holy grail of advertising, highly-qualified leads whose quality was based on...scientific data, gathered relentlessly and scrupulously.
But, we ran into a glitch. All of us, see. Facebook censors seems unable to discriminate between pictures of breast cancer survivors (bad, pornographic), breast-feeding mamas (bad) and glorifying violence against women (good, good for advertisers too. For that matter, so too did all of their coders and algorythms. Judging from the ads I see on my FB page, they have no clue and neither do the advertisers, where they are sending ads.
The irony here is that it's social media users not the social media sites that: 1) alerted the advertisers that their ads appeared on pages glorifying violence; 2) the social media sites refused to either remove the sites glorifying violence against women and even continued to place ads on those sites, implying... some connection between the brands and those messages of misogynistic violence. ( That is the implication, right? What advertiser wants its ads displayed on a site whose values it does not share?)
That is the power of social media, to better align advertisers with the values of their consumers. That changes the dynamic a bit, frankly I'm surprised smart and savvy columnists struggle not to understand that change. Consumers and our organizations are driving the message, not brands and advertisers.
If the columnist and their editor understood this better they would change the title of their column to Social Media Users Help Advertisers Understand Where Their Ads Appear.
Social media sites thrive and grow to the extent they understand that dynamic. Facebook's stock performance, described as infamous in Forbes, indicates it continues to struggle with that understanding.