Facebook increasingly defines our ideas about truth and news, so they really ought to work a little harder to block completely fake and misleading advertising. If you aspire to be the safe playground everybody plays at, you don’t leave broken glass lying around — let alone take money from the people who scatter it there.
What are these fake ads?
Even as we argue about whether it spiked conservative-focused “trending stories,” Facebook is promoting blatantly false stories in its advertising. Perhaps you’ve seen one of these ads in the Facebook right rail. “We say goodbye to Sly,” implying that Sylvester Stallone is dead. Or “What’s missing in Peyton Manning’s HGH denial?”
At some level, all ads are clickbait, but these go a little further. If you click on one, you’ll get treated to a fake site. The Peyton Manning story, for example, appears to be ESPN, as you can see below:
But it’s not ESPN — check out the URL:
This is no satire. There’s no apology and no sly humor. It’s plain old bait and switch.
Despite the real-looking favicon next to “ESPN NEWS,” the site has nothing to do with ESPN. Read a few screens down or click on any link or menu item on the page and you’ll find that this is a sleazy ad for dietary supplements from a company with questionable business practices. ESPN either can’t or won’t take action, but frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Facebook should never have allowed this ad in the first place.
Why does Facebook accept these ads?
Facebook’s advertising terms of service won’t let you show sexy stuff, hook people with shocking pictures, or sell alcohol to minors. It also prohibits the following:
Deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or business practices. [How about misleading sites that look like legitimate news sites?]
Images that contain “before-and-after” images or images that contain unexpected or unlikely results. [The fake ESPN page contains exactly those kinds of before-and-after images, although the ad itself doesn’t.]
Content leading to external landing pages that provide an unexpected or disruptive experience. This includes misleading ad positioning, such as overly sensationalized headlines, and leading people to landing pages that contain minimal original content and a majority of unrelated or low quality ad content. [How about external landing pages that are misleading by masquerading as another site?]
Perhaps these “fake news” ads skirt the edge of those guidelines. But given the proliferation of fake news on Facebook, content that’s much harder to identify, you’d think Facebook would take this chance to upgrade its systems to reject these misleading ads. There are dozens of them, they’ve persisted for at least a year, and they’re all similar.
Given the effort Facebook has put into its news feed algorithm, they certainly have the smarts to automate the identification and blocking of ads like this.
Whether it’s trending stories or deceptive ads, Facebook’s reputation for trust and balance is critical to its future success. The playground isn’t perfect, but we’ve come to expect some standards. If Facebook’s leaders are smart, they’ll enforce those standards on the ads, too. It’s not just fair to the readers — it’s better for the legitimate advertisers, as well.
To see one of these sites, click here — at your own risk.