Online tech giants are under fire from advertisers after causing significant problems with brand safety. According to NBC News, Facebook recently handed up to 3,000 advertisements over to Congress. These ads, through which Facebook had received a total of $100,000 in ad spending, were linked to the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Washington Post reports that the advertisements exploited U.S. religious and racial divisions as a means to promote voter suppression and to incite fear based on prejudices. A similar tactic had been used during the Cold War when Soviet operatives took out advertisements in newspapers across the United States, which were written as though they’d been created by political activists.
Facebook wasn’t the only digital advertising platform to be used to influence the 2016 election. On Monday, October 9, Google found that advertisements had also been purchased by Russian-linked groups during the 2016 election.
These advertisements are believed by federal investigators to be linked to a secretive company in St. Petersburg, Russia called the Internet Research Agency. The Agency has been known to spread propaganda and fake news throughout the Internet. However, Facebook has declined to confirm that the advertisements were linked to any specific groups due to legal restrictions.
Yet it isn’t the Russian-linked advertisements that several businesses are concerned about, says chief executive of Horizon Media Bill Koenigsberg. Rather, it’s the news surrounding digital advertising. “Every day there is another snippet that comes out,” he said, “and you piece them together and you’re starting to draw conclusions that the water isn’t as clear as we’d hoped.”
Many businesses and companies still utilize traditional methods of advertising, which many Americans pay attention to. Up to 71% of people driving on the road will look at and read the messages of roadside billboard advertisements. However, many businesses also rely on digital advertising methods offered through Facebook, Twitter, and Google which send advertisements to users based on their demographic regions and past online searches.
For instance, up to 18% of people admit to concealing their teeth in photos. Depending on the past online searches of those users, online tech companies may be more likely to send advertisements of teeth whitening products or dental veneers because those users would be more likely to click on those ads. Steel buildings without the proper supports wouldn’t make it past a safety inspection. Advertising may now need to implement similar safety measures for consumers.
Yet these advertisements aren’t appearing online as many businesses would like them to. According to NBC News, companies and politicians have become squeamish of these automated digital advertisements after their own banner ads have appeared over jihadi videos on YouTube.
“The entire advertising world is very anxious,” said independent expert in crisis public relations, Mike Paul. “But few will admit publicly that the negative news is affecting Facebook because it is the 800-pound gorilla globally for ad and media buyers.”