Facebook's Change of Rules About Violent & Sexual Content Just Makes Things More Confusing

FacebookHere's an announcement that's being touted as a major victory by some: Facebook is pulling ads from pages that contain violence or sexual content. Starting Monday, the social media site is altering its standards for pages or groups allowed to have advertising, a move that comes after months of pressure from advocacy groups.

It's good news from those who felt strongly that controversial pages shouldn't earn ad revenue, but to me it sends a confusing message. Your violent, sexual, graphic, or otherwise potentially offensive page doesn't violate any community standards and therefore is perfectly allowable on Facebook! But people were mad about these pages so we took the ads away in hopes that makes it all better.


The problem of controversial Facebook pages and advertising has been going on for a while. Back in May, a coalition of organizations petitioned Facebook advertisers to pull ads from pages or groups that seemed to promote or joke about rape, domestic violence, and sexual degradation of women. These pages had such charming names as "Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny Because She Won't Make You a Sandwich," "Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs," "Raping Your Girlfriend," and "Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus," and as a result of the campaign, Facebook promise to update its Community Standards guidelines to better identify hate speech. Also, a number of advertisers, including Nissan, said they were yanking their ads from the flagged pages.

Monday marked the beginning of a new advertising policy for Facebook. The company said,

Our goal is to both preserve the freedoms of sharing on Facebook but also protect people and brands from certain types of content. For example, we will now seek to restrict ads from appearing next to Pages and Groups that contain any violent, graphic or sexual content (content that does not violate our community standards). Prior to this change, a Page selling adult products was eligible to have ads appear on its right-hand side; now there will not be ads displayed next to this type of content.

I can't begin to imagine how hard it is for a company like Facebook to try and make everyone happy, from its one billion users to its investors, but I'm not sure I fully understand this move. Why not focus on the types of content you want to allow on Facebook at all, and let advertisers choose what businesses they want to get in bed with? The example they use in their statement -- a page selling adult products -- seems like a perfectly valid business, so why restrict that page's ability to run ads? Why can't Nissan (or whoever) decide for themselves if they want a car ad to be running next to a page hawking dildos?

I agree that a page called Raping Your Girlfriend shouldn't be raking in the ad dollars, but then again, it shouldn't be on Facebook in the first place. If you have the stomach for it, look at some of the pages and images that were on Facebook before Women, Action & the Media called them out.

To me, it seems like Facebook's ad policy change is a distraction from their real problem, which is negative publicity for their policies and procedures. It's almost like they're hoping people will focus on the fact that they're banning something, without realizing that they're only banning ads on pages that don't actually violate any of their terms or permissions.

What do you think of Facebook's new ad-banning policy? Do you think it's a step in the right direction?

Image via West McGowan/Flickr

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