Facebook Moves to Block Ads From Offensive and NSFW Pages

Social Network Will Conduct a Manual Review of Pages and Groups Next Week

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Facebook is making moves to protect its advertisers from the trolls who lurk in dark corners of the site -- as well as from more benign, but not-safe-for-work, content.

The social network announced Friday that it will do a sweep of pages and groups starting Monday and block ads by the end of the week from the ones deemed controversial under a more expansive set of criteria than it previously had in place. Pages that are suggestive of violence or animal cruelty will be ad-restricted under the new policy, for example, as well as ones that are sexually explicit, even if they don't portray violent scenarios.

The move is a response to a PR crisis the company faced in late May, when activists decrying the abundance of Facebook content glorifying violence against women prompted marketers like Nissan U.K. and Zipcar to temporarily pull their advertising from the site. The furor appeared to have quieted, but last week British pay-TV service BSkyB pulled its Facebook ads after one of them appeared next to offensive content, according to The Guardian.

Facebook is greatly expanding the scope of what it deems too controversial to be brand-safe. Previously, ad-restricted pages were those with curse words in the name, or pages with anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, or homophobic hate speech, for example. The new parameters go well beyond what the activists brought to light in terms of misogynistic content. Pages selling sex toys were eligible to have ads appear alongside them in the past, but no longer.

The company clearly has its work cut out for it, considering the scope of what's now verboten for ads and the abundance of not-safe-for-work content that flourishes on Facebook and virtually every other social platform (famously Tumblr, with its massive volume of porn). Take a page like "Big Booty Freaks," which currently loads with ads from the likes of Coca-Cola, TD Ameritrade and American Express on the right rail. Next week the site would be ad-restricted under the new policy.

Under the review, algorithms will surface tens of thousands of pages deemed to have high likelihood of hosting controversial content, and then employees will look through them to make a determination.

"But in the coming weeks, we will build a more scalable, automated way to prevent and/or remove ads appearing next to controversial content," according to a Facebook blog post.

While the initiative isn't aimed at removing controversial content from Facebook altogether, a spokeswoman said the manual review will likely result in detection of content that violates the site's terms of service.

Facebook acknowledged the difficulty of refereeing user content.

"Like any digital platform, we're not going to be perfect but we will be much better," according to its blog post.

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