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  • Controversy around Facebook Ads – The Buck Stops Where?

  • Controversy around Facebook Ads – The Buck Stops Where?

    Controversy around Facebook Ads – The Buck Stops Where?

    The past week or so has seen Facebook come under pressure for its ‘free speech’ policy thanks to a well-orchestrated campaign by women groups on the issue of content fostering ‘hate speech against women’ finding its way freely across Facebook. There have been several campaigns in the past to get Facebook to remove ‘Pages that promote sexual violence’. The latest campaign has managed to get more widely noticed because it has pulled into the story, one of Facebook’s key constituents – the advertisers.

    I have created a Storify, embedded at the end of the post, to capture the context of the story from the Open Letter to Facebook published on Huffington Post by Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project supported by 40+ women’s groups to currently where there has been news of some brands withdrawing advertising on Facebook and some as Dove coming under attack for not doing so.

    My colleague Jyotika and I did a quick analysis of the buzz that the campaign has been generating, take a look at some quick views here:

    Here are two key issues that I think are important in the current discussion:
    • Facebook – Role as a responsible platform owner for consumers – the core issue over here is that of free speech vs. moderation – one of the key criticisms against the platform has been in its inability to weed out offensive and abusive content against women even as it has been  removing images of “mastectomies, breastfeeding mothers, and other non-sexualized depictions of women’s bodies” and labeling them as “pornographic,”.  While the women groups highlight Facebook’s failure to remove offensive content despite being highlighted this is what Facebook is quoted as saying –

    “We try to react quickly to remove reported language or images that violate our terms and we try to make it very easy for people to report questionable content using links located throughout the site.”

    “However, as you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful or disturbing content, or make crude attempts at humor.

    “While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies.

    “We do require that any such page be clearly marked – so users are aware that the content may be in poor taste. In many instances, we may also require a page administrator to display their real name on the page, or the page will be removed.”

    Hence, is one’s man’s poor humour another woman’s abuse? Or is it possible to draw a distinct line without former standing to lose out on ‘fun’ and latter on ‘dignity’? Is it reflective of society’s attitudes and hence the attempt to regulate it just a means to artificially control “right to free speech” or should the platform have some moral ground to protect principles of a fair society?

    • Facebook – role as a responsible platform provider for advertisers – Facebook Advertising has worked on the promise of context and relevance for both the consumer and the advertiser. While the consumer gets ‘personalized’ ads basis their interest, advertisers can target their consumers (among other things) basis their interest and content they create and consume.  As content explodes, there are emerging challenges in terms of consumers questioning advertisers the ‘context’ of content where the ads appear. Brands like Dove in this case have particularly come under attack because of their emphasis on “real women” which would seem fairly ironic if shown parallel to images of abused women. Should brands be looking at Facebook to help them retain the ‘context’ meaningfully? Is it possible for Facebook to tailor context not just by people but by content? The next frontier is already here.

    Do share your thoughts.


    Disclaimer: Views of authors are personal and do not represent the views of Blogworks, or any of its clients.

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