Anytime users complain about Facebook ads someone inevitably shakes his or her head and explains that Facebook is a public company that needs to appease shareholders and investors with steady revenue increases. In Facebook’s case, this means more ads. The activist group Women, Action and the Media has picked up on that, which is why their campaign against offensive pages has been successful thus far.
As of March, Facebook has 1.11 billion monthly active users. It would take more than 10 million users to boycott Facebook for the company to see even a one percent decrease in user-base. Considering Facebook grows by 700,000 users each day, the 10 million lost accounts could be easily replaced. Groups of users can boycott Facebook all they want, but it would take hundreds of millions of accounts getting deactivated before they would even notice.
Women, Action and the Media looked at those numbers and knew that to be successful, they would have to skip the users and go after advertisers. They tweeted to brands “Hey [name] did you know that your product is advertised on [offensive page]?” More than a dozen companies took note and pulled their ads. These weren’t just small businesses either; Nissan removed their ads from Facebook and apologized to fans via Twitter.
American Express, British Airways and Dove were all under pressure to pull ads when Facebook stepped in. They announced that they will be manually reviewing offensive pages and removing advertisements from them.
We will now seek to restrict ads from appearing next to Pages and Groups that contain any violent, graphic or sexual content (content that does not violate our community standards).
Considering a month ago they promised to remove offensive and violent pages entirely, I wonder if this isn’t a step back for the activists. Facebook has vowed to continue removing pages that violate their community standards, but the punishment of removing ads seems to create a second tier of acceptable violence.
Previously, a page could either be deemed acceptable or offensive and would either be left alone or removed. Now a page can be acceptable, offensive, or in-between the two. Now Facebook has created a gray area where pages can be offensive, but not offensive enough to be taken down. These pages still exist and can promote their message, and because brands aren’t compensated for having ads on their pages, there is no incentive for borderline offensive groups to clean up their acts. Removing the ads seems more like a crisis PR move to keep advertisers happy than Facebook paving the way towards a less sexist, less racist Internet.
Of course, freedom of speech proponents can argue that this is a step towards choice. Users are still able to express their opinions (no matter how offensive to the general public) while marketers can be more selective about where their ads are. Both parties win.
It’s a catch-22 for Facebook. If they implement too many restrictions then they are censoring free speech, but if they let pages about rape and racism run wild then they are endorsing those opinions.
Where do you stand on this debate? Should offensive pages be taken down or are they covered by freedom of speech? Will removing ads from borderline offensive pages help anyone other than advertisers?