Marketers typically pay close attention when Facebook issues an announcement. Facebook’s blog post outlining its advertising principles certainly received widespread scrutiny, but probably not the kind attention Facebook desires.
Facebook vice president of Ad Products Rob Goldman explained the company’s use of consumer data, ad transparency, community standards, advertising for small businesses and other topics.
Although marginally informative, the blog post is more of a compilation of earlier statements and a public relations exercise designed to defend Facebook policies, not a new policy announcement. Facebook advertising policies are clearly of import to marketers who pay for the ads. They are also significant for PR because ads that appear with corporate social media posts can color the posted content.
A Response to Criticism
In recent months, Facebook has been criticized for allowing fake news sites to promote their posts on its network, committing numerous measurement errors, allowing discrimination against minorities in housing ads, and accepting ads targeted to members of hate groups. Most recently, the company was accused of selling ads to Russian operatives seeking to sway the 2016 presidential election.
Marketing experts and other pundits delivered a cynical response to the post on principles. Tim Peterson at Marketing Land said Facebook outlined its advertising principals “to show it has them … At the least, it gives Facebook’s executives something to point to the next time they are called before Congress and lambasted for negligently operating a platform that can be used to seemingly any end, including to undermine democracy,” he wrote.
“The overall message is less ‘this is how our system is being improved’ and more ‘we do lots of good things, and we’re trying really hard – please don’t hate us,'” noted Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today.
A Summary of its Advertising Principles
To summarize, Goldman says the company’s principles are:
“We build for people first.” Facebook wants ads to be as relevant and useful as organic posts people see.
“We don’t sell your data.” It doesn’t sell personal information like names, posts, email address, or phone numbers.
“You can control the ads you see.” Click on the upper right-hand corner of an ad to hide ads you don’t like.
“Advertising should be transparent.” It’s working on an ads transparency feature. It wants users to be able to learn who is showing them ads and see what other ads they’re running.
“Advertising should be safe and civil; it should not divide or discriminate.” Facebook’s community standards prohibit hate speech, bullying, intimidation and other kinds of harmful behavior. It recently tightened its policy to prevent discriminatory ads.
“Advertising should empower businesses big and small.” It wants smaller businesses to have access to tools previously available only to larger companies with sophisticated marketing teams.
“We’re always improving our advertising.” “We know our work isn’t done by any means, which means we’ll often introduce, test, and update certain features like ad formats, metrics, and ad controls,” Goldman says.
The problems Facebook has encountered demonstrate how very difficult it is to devise a flawless automated system for advertising and organic content. Inevitably, something inappropriate or detestable slips through. In both social media content and ads, “bad actors” find ways to circumvent platform controls in order to dish out misinformation or hateful ideas.
A Translation of Facebook’s Principles
It its translation of the principles, Ad Age says that when Facebook says it wants to empower small business, what it really means to say is: “Not every advertiser has the same exact access to information or sophisticated ad targeting tools, but every advertiser has the same opportunity to buy ad space on Facebook.”
Its assertion that it doesn’t sell personal information, can be translated as: “We don’t sell what we consider “personal information,” but there are programs that use your data anonymously to help advertisers and agencies improve their ads creatively and the targeting criteria … and we don’t technically sell it. We sell ads, and those ads use anonymous versions of your data to target them, and we control the data, not the advertiser.”
With a system that accepts and places ads automatically with no human review, bad stuff will almost certainly happen. The Facebook goal is to minimize irrelevant, odious, discriminatory or hateful ads while optimizing revenue. It’s not easy. The problems may never end.
Bottom Line: Facebook reiterated and clarified its advertising principals following numerous criticisms over discriminatory ads, Russian-sponsored ads designed to sway the election, and other issues. Although Facebook says it is working on improving its advertising network, pundits say the statement feels more like a defense of its practices. The principals seem more like a list of what it hopes to achieve.