Social advertising dilemma

The campaign for Facebook to review its policies has demonstrated that all social media platforms have to be vigilant about what appears on their sites.

Social media platforms are coming under increasing scrutiny as brands question their ability to police hate speech and other undesirable content. It is common practice for brands to seek to avoid presenting their online ads against digital content that might not align with the company’s values.

Most recently, publishers were pleading with advertisers to take terms related to coronavirus and pandemic off their banned keyword lists. While readership was skyrocketing as the public sought the latest information, advertisers were pulling budget, partly as they restructured their marketing and partly because they didn’t want their ads to appear next to negative stories related to COVID-19. Commenters estimated that ads were being held back from around 60% of editorial content.

However, Facebook and Instagram faced a month-long boycott of their platforms by a number of blue chip, global companies including Microsoft, Starbucks and Pfizer. The campaign, #StopHateForProfit, aims to highlight the need for Facebook to redouble its efforts to remove hate speech from its platform and its VP of global affairs, Nick Clegg, was quoted in Forbes as saying: “People […] don’t want to see hateful content, our advertisers don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to see it.”

Some have questioned the power of the boycott, with CNN noting that even the 2019 ad spend from its top 25 advertisers only made up 3% of the platform’s total revenues. And indeed, the platform only makes up a portion of those companies marketing channels. A report from Digiday noted that the global brands use the site primarily for brand building activity and can afford to shift focus. Facebook and Instagram also hosts direct response ads for Direct to Consumer (D2C) companies, who would lose direct access to customers if they were to join the boycott.

The campaign for Facebook to review its policies has certainly resulted in high profile news coverage and demonstrated that all social media platforms will have to be vigilant about what appears on their sites. The news that Ofcom has been given more powers to enforce rules over harmful content shows that curbs are tightening.

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