Facebook is advertising, not communication – Ad standards people

Facebook marketers in Australia – I hope you’ve seen this one.

Last week I concluded a series on what I’d do if I were in charge of Alfa Romeo’s social media presence. A significant part of that series dealt with what I see as the benefits of a blog as your social hub instead of Facebook, which is where the bulk of Alfa Romeo’s money is spent right now.

Yesterday we saw a story in the Aussie news that makes life even more complicated for companies basing their online presence around Facebook.

From The Age:

A landmark ruling that Facebook is an advertising medium – and not just a way to communicate – will force companies to vet comments posted by the public to ensure they are not sexist, racist or factually inaccurate.

In a move that could change the nature of the social networking site forever, companies could be fined or publicly shamed for the comments that appear on their Facebook ”brand” pages.

This is massive for companies with significant brand presence on Facebook.

Most of these companies will have an agency handle their Facebook page for them. Firms like Frenik Marketing Group provide a range of digital marketing services for companies of all kinds, and social media forms a big part of that. Some might have an internal representative that handles strategy as well, but monitoring comments, etc, is not something you necessarily want to spend time on in-house.

According to this ruling by the Advertising Standards Board here in Australia, brand pages on Facebook are now classed as ‘advertising’ rather than merely ‘communication’. As such, they’ll be subject to all the usual scrutiny regarding discrimination, abuse and factual content. Companies that contravene standards risk being named and potentially penalised, which is not the sort of publicity companies turn to Facebook for.

The kicker is that it’s not just the advertiser’s text that is scrutinised. It’s the comments section, too. So companies are now responsible for everything written by every Vitamin D deficient, underwear-clad, unemployed troll that likes to sit in his/her bedroom with little more to do than agitate online.

Now, imagine you’re a big global company that gets 200 or more comments for each Facebook post that you publish. Most of these comments are short and of little substance, but you’ve now got to read each and every one of them and have a clear policy in place for which ones you might have to remove.

And imagine how much you’re going to pay your social media agency to do this for you.

Once again, the answer (for Alfa Romeo and others) is to concentrate on community development through a site that emphasises quality contact and relationship development more than just occasional, surface-level contact. You get more meaningful contact, more meaningful discussion and the community will generally self-regulate as long as you set the standard properly on the front page.


Bear in mind that this story applies for Australia only at this point, but it’ll be interesting to see if other jurisdictions pick up on it.

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  1. Very interesting development there down under!

    Good thing you are writing a blog, eh Swade? Otherwise the unemployed trolls might take offense. 😉

    1. Since Swade has been working with us trolls (in the old days when we had a Saab factory to go to) we thinking he is one of us and wherefore we will never take offense what ever he writing. 😉

      Saab, made in Trollhättan by trolls.

      1. I think when Swade was referring to the “trolls” who post negative comments on social media like Facebook, he was not referring to the great Trollhättan employees of Saab…but the more general term of using “troll” to mean those who lurk on social media discussions and only post comments to shock and stir up trouble. 🙂

  2. So this is a surprise to anyone?

    The reason ANY company would post their presence on Farcebook is to advertise themselves, first & foremost. The same reason they put up advertising anywhere else…physically or electronically…to sell their wares.

    I would suspect that other countries would feel the same.

    And for another equally interesting decision from the US last month:

    “In a 27-page decision, District Judge Lucy Koh, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled that LinkedIn cannot be sued under the SCA because the company is neither a remote computing service (RCS) nor an electronic communication service (ECS).”


    And yes…that SAME Judge Koh who is currently overseeing the patent “cat fight” between Apple & Samsung. Good luck kids.

    Tell me how LinkedIn is NOT “an electronic communication service (ECS).”?
    Isn’t the WHOLE purpose of LinkedIn to connect users via a computer…so they can communicate with each other? And not “a remote computing service (RCS)” either? Really?

    Never used LinkedIn myself…but I don’t think users connect via two soup tins & a string. 😉

    Makes one wonder how these judges come to these decisions sometimes.

  3. This is good!

    Often the online world get pested by all those cowards that poure bad comnents all over the place, just to provoke.

    All online community know those as trolls. But with this excellent step by you ausses, we might get a bit more civil Internet in the future.

    I often just keep out of discussions to prevent my self from getting angry. I feel better to just read the good stuff, and ignore the bad instead of taking part of an interesting subject.

  4. ” every Vitamin D deficient, underwear-clad, unemployed troll that likes to sit in his/her bedroom with little more to do than agitate online. ”

    Only from the bitter well of blogging experience could such a beautiful pen portrait of the enemy be inked.

    Again, Swade, another fascinating and timely story. Another game-changer in an online world of shifting goalposts. Presumably then a blog is communication, and not advertising, and hence adds to your argument about why companies should go for that instead? But don’t you still get into legal muddy waters in respect of moderation? I thought that as soon as you step in to moderate, you are in effect making a contract that you will police the blog comments from now on, whereas if you leave the muck on there and don’t touch anything you are allowed to wash your hands of it? I am speaking from a UK perspective, and no doubt through a haze of ignorance.

    1. From a blogging perspective, I was initially reluctant, and eventually happy to moderate comments. I’m a big believer in free speech and people having the right to their own point of view, however I do now believe in moderating for both abuse and idiocy. The first one’s quite easy to police, but the second one’s more of a long term thing and something I’ll address based on the energy that I eventually waste trying to stop someone interrupting the experience everyone else is having.

      The tone for interaction is always set by the publisher in their text and in the way they communicate in comments.. Thankfully, I’ve only ever had to ban less than 10 people in six or seven years.

  5. This is absolutely asinine.

    This is akin to requiring an outdoor advertising company to take responsibility for the effect that graffiti has on the public.

    Silly government wonks.

    1. Use of the word asinine is only permitted with the use of asiten!, asileven! and asitwelve! with a Stephen A Smith accent.