Making matters worse, on Monday, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all faced simultaneous mass outages. “We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience,” Andy Stone, Facebook’s director of communications, tweeted just after noon ET. Those types of outages disrupt the normal course of business for brands and advertisers as they run automated ad campaigns to 2.8 billion people who use the apps daily.
The outage also offered a moment for Facebook critics to take more shots at the company. Twitter users responded to Stone with comments like, “take your time” getting back online, and “maybe it’s better this way.”
Read: Users report outages on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp
Some advertising execs said that Facebook’s response to the “60 Minutes” exposé has been inadequate. “Facebook has forgotten advertisers and agencies,” said one top ad agency executive, who has worked closely with Facebook over the years and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The scrutiny on Facebook’s business is turning into a problem for the advertising community at large. The major ad agencies work with thousands of brands that are trying to understand the impact of Facebook’s policies. Facebook serves 10 million-plus brands that spent almost $85 billion last year on its platforms.
Facebook has been talking with ad industry leaders in recent weeks, in general, to explain its position on the disclosures. The company has pushed back against the whistleblower saying reports mischaracterized its research into teens, and that Facebook’s intentions were being misconstrued.
“Every day our teams have to balance protecting the rights of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Ad Age, responding to the “60 Minutes” report. The response was similarly worded to the memo Facebook sent to ad agencies on Monday. “We continue to make significant investments to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
Facebook declined to comment officially about how it is communicating with advertisers through all this. A person close to Facebook, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the interactions between the social network’s execs and top advertisers have been positive ones. Facebook is reaching out to advertisers to explain its position and offer agencies guidance, especially since the negative spotlight on the company is not going away.
Last week, Omnicom Media Group issued a note to clients saying that it had spoken with Facebook leadership about issues affecting brands, including how it can guarantee that advertisers appear in safe environments on the social network. Advertisers were especially concerned about the revelation about the “XCheck”—“cross check”—program that allowed some violating content to remain on Facebook from the most influential accounts. Advertisers worried the program could mean there was more offensive material on the platform than Facebook discloses in its quarterly Community Standards Enforcement Report.
IPG Mediabrands also sent its take on Facebook's challenges to clients last week.
Facebook’s leadership told advertisers that the program did not affect its quarterly report on the prevalence of hate speech, extremism, sexual content and other offensive material in News Feed. Facebook is currently undergoing an outside audit by Ernst & Young to prove the accuracy of its enforcement report.
Haugen told “60 Minutes” that Facebook prioritizes profits over its users, and that leads it to make decisions to spread the most polarizing content. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer,” Haugen told “60 Minutes,” “people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money.”
Another top agency executive said that Facebook leadership was “skirting the underlying issues” with its response. There is an understanding among advertisers that Facebook and Instagram are not responsible for political polarization or teen body issues. “You didn’t invent it, but you’re sure making it worse,” the agency exec said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Last week, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s interim head of global business group, who is partly responsible for how Facebook communicates with its advertisers during moments of intense public pressure, appeared on Ad Age Remotely. “The heart of the reporting is really based on the fact that Facebook does internal research, and the sorts of debates that we have within the company, about how we could address some really big societal issues that persist on our services, but also on the internet at large,” she said.
“What wasn’t covered is the fact that we’ve made investments,” Mendelsohn added, “we’ve built dedicated teams. We’ve improved how our systems operate and actually that’s work that we’ve been doing for years, and that we’re going to continue to do.”
Also Monday, Facebook filed its response to the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against the company. In August, the FTC refiled its case that claimed Facebook acts as a monopoly in private social media. Facebook argued that FTC chair Lina Khan should recuse herself from the case because of her past advocacy against the social network, Bloomberg News reported. Facebook also claimed that the FTC inadequately defined the competitive landscape for social media.