Nissan, other brands suspend Facebook ads over offensive content

Nissan said it acted quickly to suspend one campaign in the UK

Nissan and some other big brands have suspended advertising campaigns on Facebook after ads were apparently displayed next to offensive content on the site.

The campaigns were put on hold in the U.K. just as Facebook rolled out new policies to help it more quickly identify and remove hate speech and other forms of offensive content on its site.

Those changes were announced Tuesday following calls for action from groups including Women, Action and the Media and the Everyday Sexism Project, which pointed to images posted on Facebook that encourage or make jokes about violence against women.

The Japanese carmaker Nissan, the U.K.'s Nationwide Building Society and Unilever's Dove brand all were concerned about their ads being displayed next to such content, according to a report in the Financial Times.

A Nissan spokesman told IDG News Service it had no proof its ads had appeared alongside offensive content, "but we are working with Facebook to ensure any future advertisements can't follow users into pages that may be deemed offensive," said Nissan spokesman David Reuter.

The company acted quickly to halt an advertising campaign in the U.K. when the situation came to light, Reuter said.

Nissan hasn't made any changes to its advertising in the U.S., but "we will continue to work with [Facebook] to ensure that we can opt out of advertising on any pages that may be deemed offensive," Reuter said.

Several of the changes made to Facebook's content policies include soliciting feedback from outside experts to better evaluate reports of hateful speech.

The way the site classifies what is offensive and what is not is somewhat complicated. The site prohibits content deemed to be "directly harmful," but is okay with content that is merely offensive or controversial. The company defines harmful content as "anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying)."

Specific content categories, such as self-harm, sadistic graphic content and pornography, are listed in Facebook's community standards.

The site does not permit hate speech, "but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech," according to its community standards. "There are instances of offensive content, including distasteful humor, that are not hate speech according to our definition," Facebook says.

But hate speech in the form of "direct and serious attacks on any protected category of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease" is prohibited, as outlined in the company's statement of rights and responsibilities.

Women, Action and the Media is one of the groups Facebook is bringing in to assist the company in evaluating its standards around hate speech. The Boston-based group has reacted positively to Facebook's new strategies.

"We believe that this is the foundation for an effective working collaboration designed to confront gender-based hate speech effectively," the group said on its website.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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