Culture

Facebook wants to make it easier for brands to control where ads appear

The social network wants to ensure brands can keep their ads away from content on its platform they find objectionable.

A protester is seen wearing a large sized mask of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. They are carrying a sign that reads: "Regulate me."
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook is reportedly rolling out topic exclusion methods for advertisers, according to CNBC. The new control settings, which are expected to be rolled out later this year, are intended to keep ads from appearing alongside controversial content in Facebook's News Feed... like stories about crime, politics, or anything else a brand might find disagreeable or not want to be affiliated with, even indirectly.

It's not an entirely new approach. Companies like YouTube and Twitter have also looked into topic exclusion ad strategies while consulting with groups like the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM). As usual with Facebook, this doesn't address the underlying problem, though. Moreover, it could be used to exclude specific groups or conversations that are already underrepresented on the platform.

Who does this benefit? — This doesn't look like a move to clean up Facebook's ongoing problems with hate speech, conspiracy theories, or misinformation. It's designed to benefit advertisers alone, and cushion them from having their content seen in close proximity to the reprehensible content that continues to flourish on Facebook.

Advertising giants affiliated with the World Federation of Advertisers insist that the move is about protecting not just advertisers, but about user safety, too. But we fail to see how ads appearing next to problematic materials protect users at all if the content remains. This looks like an effort to ensure ad dollars keep rolling in first and foremost.

Not surprising — Facebook has some appeasing to do, so this doesn't come as a surprise. Last year the company faced a massive boycott when major brands attempted to distance themselves from it after it failed to address former President Donald Trump's anti-Black Lives Matter posts during the George Floyd rallies.

Companies like North Face, Patagonia, REI, Levi's, Puma, Vans, Adidas, and others aligned themselves with the "Stop Hate For Profit" campaign, demanding more accountability from Zuckerberg who repeatedly defended keeping Trump's posts up. At an all-hands meeting discussing the boycott, Zuckerberg downplayed it, arguing that advertisers would return.

Sadly, he was largely correct, but with the company also facing fresh challenges from the likes of Apple's forthcoming restrictions on data sharing, maintaining the strength of its ad business — which is Facebook's lifeblood — is more important than ever. And Facebook knows it.

Bandaid on a gunshot wound — As we witnessed in 2020, though, many advertisers don't simply want to be distanced from hate-filled or other despicable content. A growing number want Facebook to do away with the hate speech altogether by introducing better algorithmic and moderation policies. Topic exclusion controls are too superficial to fix the problem.