Facebook’s recent decisions paint the company as an increasingly brand-hostile space.
Earlier this month one of its largest advertising partners, Compass Labs, severed its relationship with the company citing increasingly diminished returns on Facebook ads as the reason. “While the spend on social ads is growing and will continue to grow rapidly, the intermediaries (i.e. PMDs) are not structurally positioned to get attractive returns,” the company said as reported by Business Insider. This was despite Facebook having pushed its Preferred Marketing Developers badge system out of the reach of any brand that didn’t take out paid ads on the site – which essentially now amounts to ransoming brands with an ad spend that doesn’t deliver returns. Last year Facebook had artificially choked traffic to brand Pages in an effort to force a spend on promoted posts in order to reach an audience that those brand pages had previously reached for free after building a following – perhaps over years – on the site.
In its most recent user-hostile decision, Facebook allowed a gruesome beheading video to be posted on the site after lifting a moratorium on that kind of content, releasing a statement detailing its reasons: “Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events on the ground.” It argued speciously that if people are posting this kind of content in order to “condemn” it and not glorify it, then it is fine with Facebook – as if the site has any sort of checks and balances in place to assess user intent. The video in question garnered likes and shares in the thousands and was widely shared in the broader media, leading Facebook to reverse its decision after 24 hours of very bad press. In its continued ‘deny all responsibility’ attitude towards what users post to the site, it lamely insists that if they do post beheading videos that they “do so in a responsible manner, carefully selecting their audience and warning them about the nature of the content so they can make an informed choice about it.” Again, this is something that Facebook has no way of enforcing. Its strategy is clicks at any cost. Just as long as those clicks aren’t garnered by images of breasts, which are offensive.
Facebook is a company that is so huge, with such vast influence over people’s online behavior that it can and will continue to make all its decisions on what it deems to be appropriate content along completely arbitrary lines.
Increasingly brands need to consider if this is the kind of space they want to be seen in. Do you want your content served alongside a video graphically depicting a horrifying murder caught on camera? With Australians listing their online activities as the biggest threat to their privacy Facebook is already trying to regain user’s trust after the extent of its involvement in the NSA surveillance apparatus was revealed. Allowing snuff videos on the site for the sake of traffic doesn’t seem like the smartest way to do that.
Add to that the ineffectiveness of Facebook’s ad serving and it all looks less and less like a smart digital spend and more like somewhere that strategists should actively avoid.