22 May 2013

PR Nightmares in the Making

If you are not following Everyday Sexism (@EverydaySexism) and the media storm they are creating surrounding anti-woman Facebook pages and Facebook advertisers, you certainly should be.  While it is way more nuanced than this, in essence Facebook has allowed the existence of some really awful pages on its site.  These are pages with content that makes getting called a "slut" on the radio look like misogyny's amateur hour.  Running in the sidebar of these pages are advertisements from many well-known companies and well, some women's rights organizations are calling these companies out on just how they feel about their ad content being run alongside/supporting these pages.  Also, it begs the question: why does Facebook permit these pages to begin with?

So, Facebook.  On this note, it is a 1st Amendment rights/censorship issue.  You don't have to agree with the statements put forth by all the users of this social media, but you do have to respect their right to make those statements.  I understand why Facebook is only willing to tread lightly here.  To do a knee-jerk cleanse of anything this petition finds offensive opens the door for forcible removal of anything anyone finds offensive and well, where does that leave the social media giant?  Up to its eyeballs in 1st amendment lawsuits.  I get it.  However, Facebook has gone on the record many times removing "questionable" content.  Pictures of breastfeeding women and artwork containing the nude form immediately come to mind, but I am sure countless others exists.  Since the company has set a precedence for removing content at their whim, the questions of why these pages are allowed to persist is worth asking.  If you can remove content that promotes breastfeeding (totally legal), then why are you not removing content that encourages rape and domestic violence (both illegal)?   On a personal note I am dying to see what Sandberg has to say about all this.  Since I would hope that her book on corporate feminism doesn't include the disclaimer that "women should be equals unless tacit agreement with female subjugation lines my pockets with advertising money," I think we need to hear from her...and soon.

As for the advertisers?  They are in a tough spot.  They buy Facebook ad space, but beyond that, I assume they don't get much say in the whens and wheres of how the ads run.  It is not the fault of Nissan, Dove or Audible that their ads are running alongside pages that promote violence against women.  But, by not taking steps to remedy the problem once they know, they are tacitly saying that they don't even see a problem.  When you say "oh well, it is out of our hands" you are inherently saying "I can't be bothered to sacrifice revenue to do the right thing."  From a profit driven perspective, sure this make sense.  However, in this era of social media and social consciousness, the best way to ensure your profits take a dive is to alienate or offend your target demographic.  In this day and age, the money spending demographic that one targets with social media sites is also a demographic that won't take kindly to supporting un-PC behavior.

This is quickly escalating into a PR debacle for several of the advertisers in question.  In addition to calling out Facebook on this content, this may start to serve as a tragic cautionary tale for how not to handle this style of inquiry.  Now that it has all been released into the wilds of the internet, this could get really bad, really fast.

There is so much ground from here on that I can't even begin to explain or discuss it just yet.  I cannot recommend strongly enough that everyone keep an eye on this one.  I suspect that this event may have serious long-term impacts on how companies handle themselves for years to come.  The internet is fickle my friends.  When you rely on social media users as consumers, you must handle that double edged sword carefully.  You might just cut off your own arm.