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Facebook – abuse of a dominant position?

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SEIehEmgFacebook is already in the news for censoring its newsfeed, but the issue goes far wider – right into what you can put in adverts and how your ads are distributed. And this has a massive impact on PSMS, warns Declan Pettit, director, Monitoring Compliance Partners

How ironic – intentional or otherwise – that in George Orwell’s 1984 – a book about a totalitarian future – ‘Big Brother’ should also be the name of the pioneering ‘Free Speech’ platform upon which the seeds of our over-sharing society were sown. ‘Big Brother’ is to TV what Facebook is to the Internet.

It’s not getting any easier for on-line advertisers – and in particular digital content providers looking to focus on display advertising. Facebook operate a quasi-police state when it comes to controlling what appears on its pages. Any negativity at all from their members can lead to an immediate cessation of advertiser’s account. And – whilst there is an appeals process – it is not fit for purpose with very little transparency.

Considering the amount of eyeballs on Facebook’s pages, is there a case to answer for abuse of power? The draconian approach may well need someone like SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) to take an interest. Certainly, it would require deep pockets for a ‘small’ PSMS player to take on the might of Facebook.

Unquestionably there is a dichotomy surrounding Facebook’s main objective; it has a duty to maximize shareholder value (by ad revenue), but needs to protect that income by ensuring members continue to use their site.

This is done by having tight controls over what its members are exposed to – which in turn can negatively affect revenue projections.

These tight controls necessitate the disabling of an ad account that drives traffic to a ‘misleading’ page. However Facebook only disable the ad account, not the actual Facebook page. Therefore if you drive organic traffic to that page, the issue still remains even if the mechanism for ads has been removed.

The irony gets thicker again as this, in turn, increases the difficulty in tracking what is going on – as organic traffic is not as easy to detect as ads.

So whilst Facebook may officially say I has no issues with PSMS on its advertising platform, this does not mean its members will not have to run the gauntlet of an array of uninvited offers.

One way the advertiser might avoid unwanted attention from Facebook is to manage posts regularly – and remove negative messages ASAP. A sort of ad monitoring. A large brand that has many positive messages and interaction certainly helps to mitigate the issue. But diligent and constant monitoring is required here and it takes not unsubstantial resource – with absolutely no guarantee of success.

Hence the need to automate this manual process – and that is where MCP’s Veriscanner platform can help. Veriscanner is an automated crawler that searches for ads to record and assess for compliance on Facebook (desktop/mobile web and the Facebook app). Alerts are sent out notifying non-compliant items and includes ‘click-throughs’ to show full journey details.

Another way to circumvent the issue would be to incentivise ‘real people’ with a large following to post about the page which links to PSMS. It is a viral type of promotion. A step further would be to have a small team with “real” UK profiles be-friending members and spreading links to the page (asking for likes etc).

This approach was used in the early days of SEO. And like SEO, the ‘free speech’ defense holds up well against the supposed dystopian controls of Facebook.

As was the case on the High Street, the on-line ‘gate-keepers’ will continually change, depending on a plethora of factors – not least society values/consumer trends/technological advances. But the macro-economic landscape notwithstanding, the one ‘constant’ required by the serious players like Facebook (and echoed by O’Brien in the book 1984: “Power is not a means, it’s an end”) is controlling access to their users.

It’s a tricky balancing act to maintain an income model that could well be seen as biting the hand that feeds it.

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Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

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