Facebook Inc. said it would soon begin building and testing new controls to let marketers keep their ads away from topics they want to avoid.
The plan comes as the company continues to follow up on promises that it made following last summer’s temporary boycott by some advertisers over the way it has handled objectionable content on its platforms.
In a blog post, Facebook said it plans to test a solution that will let an advertiser select a topic that it wants to steer clear of, which will determine where and how their ads show up on Facebook, including in the news feed. A children’s toy company that wants to avoid content related to a new crime show, for example, could select the “crime and tragedy” category as a topic to exclude, the company said.
Facebook said it would run the test with a small group of advertisers, but a spokesman declined to name the participants.
“Providing advertisers topic exclusion tools to control the content their ads appear next to is incredibly important work for us, and to our commitment to the industry via GARM,” said Carolyn Everson, vice president of Facebook’s Global Business Group.
GARM refers to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a group of advertisers, media companies, tech companies and others focused on improving safety standards online.
Last July, more than 1,100 advertisers paused their advertising with Facebook following calls from civil-rights groups to boycott the platform over its handling of hate speech and misinformation. Some big marketers went further and paused their ad spend in the U.S. through 2020, though most have resumed their spending by now.
One of the concerns for advertisers has been a lack of visibility and control over how and where their ads appear on Facebook, especially in the news feed, where ads can show up next to content or posts by users that they feel are objectionable. Since the boycott, some major advertisers have been privately pressuring Facebook to offer new tools on this front, according to people familiar with the matter.
Advertisers already have brand-safety controls for ads on other parts of Facebook, such as ads that appear within videos on Facebook. But Facebook’s biggest and most important ad placement is in its news feed, which helped the company grow to about $84.17 billion in ad revenue in 2020.
“Advertisers are hyper-focused on the content they’re supporting and in-feed adjacency is a major blind spot,” said Mike Henry, chief executive of brand-safety technology firm OpenSlate. “Brands are demanding more transparency around in-feed content overall and specifically the content that their ads run alongside. It’s a major priority for 2021 and any new controls will be a step in the right direction.”
Following the start of the boycott, Facebook said it would look into developing such controls, among other efforts and commitments, including working with GARM to adopt proposals regarding definitions of hate speech and outside audits of its transparency reports and ad policies.
“It’s a significant step forward given, historically, this was off the table,” said Joshua Lowcock, chief digital officer and global brand safety officer at Interpublic Group of Cos. agency UM.
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