Losing Control

Several major British advertisers have pulled their advertising from Facebook after being placed next to a British National Party related page. With all the buzz around Facebook, I am surprised that none of the SIlicon Valley blogs I read have picked up on this yet. Given the openness of most social networking sites, it’s not surprising that far right parties and organizations, such as the BNP, can be found on them (along with just about any other organization you can think of). This diversity naturally raises questions for participants, both users and advertisers, of perceived association. For instance, purely hypothetical, how would you feel if you are listed right next to a neo-Nazi in the in Rammstein’s friends list on MySpace? And of course, should companies like Facebook police their sites for organizations like the BNP, which is legal in the UK yet widely loathed there? The Yahoo France Nazi memoribilia case shows that governemnts will act when illegal activity occurs on websites, so social networking companies can’t let their sites be a big free-for-all.

Facebook’s silence (so far) on the issue suggests that advertisers have relatively control of ad placement on the site. My guess is that Facebook is scrambling to come up with a more advertiser-friendly terms of use policy and with a better ad system. However, in general this problem will remain. My guess is we will see the same thing that exists in other forms of media:mainstream, tame sites that are acceptable to the Average Joe and the blue-chip advertisers that are seeking to reach him, and ‘alternative’ sites that are more permissive (sex-related sites are a natural example). The mainstream sites will be expensive to run, as they will need big teams of people to filter out unacceptable content, just as Google has large teams checking AdSense applications. The companies that can best moditor content will win the blue-chip advertisors, while the expense of this will favor the companies that develop the best and most automated monitoring systems.

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