Facebook made the mainstream news again last night. Behind the news there’s an interesting twist.
In brief: Facebook is being forced (as the commentators put it) to face up to issues of inappropriate and inflammatory comment being posted on its open platform. In the early days of the internet (think Newsgroups) or of the Web, anyone could put anything up. Communities like newsgroups or conferencing sites were largely self policing. Now, with the development of case law and some explicit regulation, it’s not such a free-for-all.
Facebook mirrors this. In many ways, for some people, Facebook is the Web. Its un-policed, self-regulated, relatively small caterpillar has become a free-flying butterfly (is that a good metaphor?) where it has millions of users, representing a wide variety of (mostly legitimate) points of view, different cultures and so on. It’s taken a while for the management of a multi-billion public company to realise they have to exercise responsibility.
OK, so far, so obvious. But the interesting thing to me about last night’s news item was that the pressure has come, specifically, from advertisers. In the Web world we’re used to thinking of advertisers as a necessary intrusion; they pay for our Google searches, our online news (paywalls apart), most of our “free” services. But here, it’s the advertisers that have forced Facebook to take notice. No, said the Nationwide Building Society (and others), we will not take the risk of our brand appearing alongside this kind of stuff.
As the BBC report says, the Nationwide action went public on Twitter. Looking at the Twitter feed for @asknationwide, on 25th May, it appears they received a large number of tweets relating to ads being displayed alongside offensive content. One tweet to @everydaysexism says “It is not our intention for our ads to appear on pages like this. We will report this page to Facebook and suspend our ads”, and they did just that.
Whoever thought that damage to brands could become a force for positive change?
• Sexism campaign: Facebook learns a lesson, Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology, 29 May 2013
• Facebook bows to campaign groups over ‘hate speech’, BBC (Dave Lee and Rory Cellan-Jones), 29 May 2013
• BBC news video, 29 May 2013
• Twitter: @askNationwide and @everydaysexism (look here for other news links)