Facebook offensive content - four things you can do to protect your brand

By Sarah Lennard-Brown

How do you control the context in which your adverts appear on Facebook? How do you mitigate against the damaging repercussions that can occur when your innocent advert appears next to content that is offensive? We have four tips to help you defend your brand.

Thousands of protestors have been banding together and demanding action from Facebook over posts that degrade women and promote sexual violence. In addition to demanding that Facebook take effective action against content which glorifies domestic violence and rape, protestors have been targeting companies whose adverts appear with the content. Companies as diverse as Dove, Sky, American Express and Nationwide Building Society have been targeted in the campaign. This highlights a huge issue for companies advertising on Facebook: how do you control the context in which your adverts appear? How do you mitigate against the damaging repercussions for your brand that can occur when your innocent advert appears next to content that is offensive?

Facebook have been trying to control this situation by issuing a "community standards" statement which defines unacceptable content.

In terms of hate speech the community standards document says:

"Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition."

And on the subject of nudity and pornography it continues:

"Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo's David or family photos of a child breastfeeding. "

All of which sound very reasonable. When notified of such content Facebook are supposed to assess the content against this criteria and take it down if it is found to transgress the code. However there has been much debate and criticism about Facebook's ability to do this in the real world. Facebook have put their hands up to problems policing their content policy. A statement from Facebook released on the 28th May 2013 states: "In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate...We need to do better – and we will."

However this still leaves companies at risk of their adverts appearing next to potentially damaging content, even for a short period of time. But don't despair there are several things you can do to minimise the risk and minimise the potential damage.

1. Take care when deciding which population to target

Advertising campaigns that target blanket populations - such as "south west England", or "New York State" give you little control over where your advert appears. You can increase your level of safety and effectiveness, by defining your targeted audience, by age, gender and interests, such as food, gardening and reading. Targeting by interest can be incredibly precise, or more broad but is a very effective way of making sure your advert gets to the people who would be most interested by it.

2. Vigilance

Keep alert to reports by Facebook users of anything that could be detrimental to your brand or reputation and take action fast.

3. Action

If you find your advert is being shown next to disturbing content then report it to Facebook and act fast to distance yourself from the content on your own Facebook page.

4. Response

You need to be proactive in responding to criticism by talking to your customers about the steps you have taken to resolve the situation. Dove acted quickly to distance themselves from the offensive content by issuing a statement and telling its customers the action they had taken to prevent it happening again - in this case they talked about changing their target population. They also were realistic about their chances of effectiveness as they have no direct control over which pages their advert appears on but also put pressure on Facebook to take more effective steps to prevent offensive, hateful content being published on their site.

At Ecru we have experience devising and Social Media projects.

Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru

This article was written by Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru. If you have any questions regarding this article or would like to discuss your next web site project with Sarah please call her on 0800 0433 963 or get in touch via our contact form.

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