Facebook defends 'broad range of offensive content' amid advertiser backlash

Richard Allan, director of policy at Facebook EMEA
Richard Allan, director of policy at Facebook EMEA

Facebook's European policy chief said the social network's philosophy is to allow people freedom "to be pretty offensive online" as it brings into place restrictions on the types of pages that can carry ads.

Richard Allan, director of policy at Facebook EMEA, revealed Facebook completed narrowing down the number of pages where ads will be shown on Monday (8 July), but is waiting a few days to make a formal announcement because "everyone is checking we’ve got it all right".

Facebook is stopping ads from running on pages that host "violent, graphic or sexual" content after brands began pulling their ads from the platform, but Allan insists the social network is remaining committed to freedom of speech.

He said: "Our interpretation of Article 10 [of the European Convention of Human Rights] is that people should be free to be pretty offensive online – there should be a broad range of offensive content that one can publish within the law."

Allan defended Facebook’s advertising model and claimed the furore over ads from major brands appearing next to inappropriate content did not happen from "normal usage" of Facebook.

He explained: "The way that Facebook advertising works is the adverts are directed to you – they are not directed to the content of a Facebook page.

"The irony is if you are a regular target group individual you will see ads for mainstream UK brands [and] if you now go and look for a page that has got offensive content on the ads follow you.

"We don’t think it has been happening through the normal usage of Facebook but clearly it is technically possible for it to happen."

PR disasters

Facebook is bringing in the restrictions to what pages ads can appear next to in order to avoid brands falling victim to PR-disasters caused by pressure groups taking screenshots of their ads appearing in inappropriate places, according to Allan.

The social network believes it received undue criticism due to the envy of more regulated traditional media platforms.

Allan said: "Often you will get a mixed message where they will say we want to complain we are over-regulated but we would like you to regulate [user-generated platforms] some more."

David Ellison, marketing services manager at ISBA, has welcomed the changes being implemented by Facebook following Nationwide, Marks & Spencer and Sky pulling ad campaigns on the social network, but has warned the industry body will monitor the situation closely.

Ellison said: "We are anxious to find out what steps it proposes to take to allay concerns of advertisers who don’t want to see their brands’ reputations damaged, and we will be keeping a close eye on developments."

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