Ad watchdog warned it is being “commercially unrealistic” as advertisers fight back on Facebook ruling

The Advertising Standards Board’s stance on Facebook brand pages is “commercially unrealistic”, according to Foster’s, as advertisers push for more time to take action on Facebook comments.

The ASB found a brand’s Facebook page is an advertisement in a case involving a complaint about the official Smirnoff Vodka Facebook page.

The complaint raised concerns about comments made by the brand’s Facebook “fans”, which included obscenity, sexism, racism, and depictions of irresponsible drinking, and the ASB found Diageo, Smirnoff’s parent company, has an obligation to police the activity of its fans on the Smirnoff Facebook page.

Brewing company Foster’s has jumped into the debate, arguing that many of the fan comments on its VB Facebook page are meant ironically.

“The only way for a producer to be certain that no inappropriate user comments appear on a Facebook page for its product would be either not to have that Facebook page at all (which is commercially unsustainable given the importance of social media in marketing in 2012 and its likely increased importance in future), or to review every user comment before allowing it to appear on the page,” the Foster’s group said in a submission to the ASB.

“A requirement for pre-moderation of every user comment would be contrary to the spirit of social media and would cause users to become disengaged from the page,”

VB also warns this monitoring would require an “unreasonably high level of resourcing by the producer”.

“Effectively, moderation staff would need to be engaged 24/7, every day of the year, to review every user comment as quickly as possible after it is submitted. This is commercially unrealistic.”

Alina Bain, the director of regulatory affairs at the Australian Association of National Advertisers, told SmartCompany whether the watchdog’s decision was commercially realistic depended on the time frame required for moderating Facebook posts.

“The ASB ruling did not talk about the time frames for moderating posts, it talks about a reasonable time frame, what we are doing is consulting with our members about that,” Bain says.

“The ASB’s code captures advertising within the ‘reasonable control’ of the advertiser and we need to put some expectations around what is reasonable control.

“To require immediate monitoring of Facebook doesn’t reflect the requirements of the code, which is ‘reasonable’.

In any event, a finding of a breach by the ASB does not result in any financial penalty to advertisers.

“The way the system works is that it applies to all advertisers and marketers, if there is a breach there is a conversation with the advertiser informing of the decision,” says Bain.

“It is a self-regulated industry funded system so there is no financial penalty, but there is a very high level of compliance by advertisers and marketers.”

Peter Lee, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, says the industry needs to find a balance between the ASB decision and realistic behaviour.

“Certainly I think all companies would have a certain degree of responsibility and expectations of representing their own business. They would not want to see particularly sexist or racist remarks posted on their sites, even though it is third parties posting those comments,” he says.

“I think we are already seeing moderators out there in social media forums, like in the Whirlpool forums.

“There is a balance… we need to weigh up the pros and cons and think about expectations of companies in relation to social media.”



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