Opinion: Pulling ads from BNP Facebook pages is absurd

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Jon_small_new.jpgJonathan Weinberg writes…

Just a week ago I called on advertisers to think more deeply about which websites they want their brands to be associated with. It came as a response to the Panorama BBC investigation into violent beatings and fights being filmed by youngsters and posted on the popular websites in the name of entertainment.

And now, it seems the money men are sitting up and taking notice. Obviously, I don’t – and can’t – claim the credit for that but I’m not sure I want to in this case, because on this one, I actually think they’ve got it wrong.

A few days ago Vodafone and First Direct, two of the UK’s leading firms, decided to withdraw their advertising from Facebook because it might end up appearing on pages run by the British National Party. Now we can debate the BNP’s stance all day and night but the fact remains they are a legitimate political party able to stand in council and general elections.

The initial move led to Virgin Media, the AA, Halifax and Prudential all turning off the revenue stream to Facebook with Virgin saying it had to “protect its brand”. What next though, companies like McDonalds deciding they can’t spend cash on the web in case adverts end up appearing with stories about vegetarianism.

Corporate responsibility is to be applauded but I don’t think this is the right way to go about it. I’m still waiting to hear of the firms ditching the sites showing youngsters brandishing guns on video or getting their heads kicked in for a laugh. I think that’s slightly more important than worrying your ad will be taken as support for a particular political party.

Web users are pretty savvy you know, when a flashing banner, button or sidebar appears, we know these are adverts that are paid for, mainly by middle-men agencies, with no knowledge of exactly where and when they will appear.

I’m pretty sure people don’t sit back and think the likes of Vodafone or First Direct support the BNP, Labour, Conservatives or Lib Dems. To think that we do is just Monster Raving Looney.

But while we’re on politics, this weekend I read the Conservatives were calling for a new law to jail bosses of websites that show the homemade violent videos if they fail to remove them. It’s a nice idea, maybe if the big chiefs allowing this to happen took the fall, they’d think twice about filling their servers with such nastiness.

And that’s exactly the kind of corporate responsibility on the web we could all be proud of.

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Jonathan Weinberg

9 comments

  • I suspect Jonathan’s classification of the BNP as a “legitamate political party” has more to do with there having dropped ant-semitism and embraced hatred of Muslims. Were the BNP the rabidly anti-semitic organisation of yore publishing holocaust denial materials would Jonathan still classify them as a “legitamate political party” and class them with Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems?

  • When they took the ad slots, the companies should have known that the content of the website is largely generated by the community of users.

    Their ads are shown indiscriminately according to some random algorithm. What I don’t think the executives understand is that there hasn’t been any conscious effort to associate them with fascism. That’s just a consequence of placing advertisements next to user content of an uncontrollable nature.

    Their advertisements will appear next to all sorts of things they _would_ want to associate themselves with, alongside the more unsavoury pages and also next to in-jokes understood by only a few.

    I find it idiotic for the advertisers (a) to care about one particular isolated case, and (b) not to have realised this earlier.

    On the other hand, perhaps this will catalyse Facebook to introduce a Google-style AdWords system.

  • Such a fuss about the wrong thing ! Advertisments are skillfully diguised lies. Many of the companies named have shameless ecological policies. They are terrified ‘the public’ will see through the gossamer weave that hides their true nature. Sites such as Facebook are a social danger. Identity theft is only one unwanted result. Of course violent attacks should be lifted from these sites. Site owners should be given the choice to either police their domain or have them blocked in all major countries. The Chinese have shown that this works well,even if their objectives are unsavoury. i myself feel perfectly able to live a ull social life without resorting to such extremes as a social networking site. I have never visited Facebook, and now doubt that I ever will.

  • Hi Jonathan,

    While I agree with much of your article I cannot believe that you’re suggesting the sites owners take full responsibility for the content posted there.

    I believe it should be the person posting the clip/comment/whatever, even if they’re not the people primarily involved. Few sites have anonymous posting of films and so the individuals involved should be tracked down and prosecuted.

    No one is forced to watch these videos, etc, and if what they are watching is deemed illegal in their country, they should be prosecuted.

    Until people learn to respect others they will continue to post such trash. Until people accept that sites such as youtube and facebook will disappear if they don’t use sense in what they post, then they’ll continue to abuse it.

    Another point is who is going to decide what is suitable content – you really want that going through the judicial process? And what about different attitudes in different countries, how will you legislate for that?

    Your argument is, I’m sorry to say, a typical knee-jerk, protectionist and dangerous response to something that needs more consideration.

  • The onus shouldn’t be on brands to permit their ads to be seen with *any* content (on the web or elsewhere), but on sites to permit ad serving that provides control to the brands.

    No large brand in the world wants their ad seen next to a video of someone spewing prejudice or someone getting beaten, nor is it unreasonable for them to feel this way. They wouldn’t sponsor or be associated with that sort of “content” on TV or mags, and why should it be any different online? Spending money to be associated with negative content is contrary to everything brands must do today in terms of justifying ROI and positively impacting brand impressions.

    If advertisers start pulling money away from Facebook because the site doesn’t permit any level of control over where ads are served, then this is a big message not for the brands but for Facebook and all sites that hope to make big bucks off of advertisers such as Vodaphone, Virgin Media, and Prudential.

    P.S. What the heck gives with your site? I tried to post this several times and kept getting a messasge saying I’ve submitted too many comments. This is my first ever comment on your site!

  • Sorry Jonathan i can’t say i agree with your tag of the BNP as just a “Political Party” when they are something much more sinister. They rely on an ability to influence the naive and weakminded who then go on to perpetrate misery on innocent people in their name. I do agree that the recording and/or glorification of violence by young people is a very serious issue but i’m also happy to see more responsible actions by companies to distance themselves from dubious organisations even if it isn’t solely motivated by morals. Perhaps you would think of them as more of a threat if you had been a victim of their actions as i have but then again that’s probably not going to happen is it?

  • The main reason I dislike Facebook is because of the ridiculous amount of ads, and most of them are nothing but irritating, so anything that gets rid of them the better.

    If mentioning the bnp means no ads on your page then let’s find out what other words can be used to drive the epileptic fit inducing examples of advertising off of the web.

  • I think what you have to remember is that much of advertising stems from deviously tapping the human weakness of associating good things with good things (think good-looking Malboro man + cigarettes) the reverse is also true (think BNP site + Vodafone).

    The fact remains that, whilst representive of the darker side of human nature, the BNP is about as socially acceptible as a bunch of aggressively drunken yobs – I can quite understand why savvy, well-paid marketing people are so keen to worry where their millions are spent.

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