The Dark Side of Facebook

During the 2016 US Election as many as 126 million American Facebook users may have seen content uploaded by Russia-based operatives. The pages promoting the posts were largely fake accounts, created to spread misinformation to meddle in the election. The ads were pushed out were via ‘dark posts’ - which are not as evil as they sound. While the content being pushed may have been questionable, the 'dark post' process is quite straightforward and used by many global brands. Dark posts are simply posts that appear in a user’s news feed, but do not appear on a brand’s page - this means they’re seen exclusively by the user they are intended for and nobody else. In other words, they are great for targeting. 

Evening the playing field?

In response to the use of dark posts in the 2016 US Election, Facebook is now implementing a View Ads link to the top of every brand owner page in 2018, which will provide visibility on all dark posts.

When clicked, the View Ads function will allow a Facebook user to see all the ads being run by the brand, including dark posts that were targeting specific users, so you will be able to see if certain ads are targeting you or not.

Facebook believes that the View Ads link will make it easier for users to flag inappropriate content, however, it will also present some challenges for brands. Advertisers can create as many ads as they desire without spamming their followers and can tailor targeting to reach very specific audiences with relevant creative. Brands can also use dark posts to run A/B tests, for example running the same ad with different copy or a different video to build up learnings as to which works best. View Ads will mean that ads previously built to be targeted towards specific users, such as newsletter subscribers or individuals that have interacted with the brand in the past, will now be open to be viewed by anyone who clicks the link.

These actions are being taken from results at a global level, but what does that mean locally for us in Ireland?

Some brands do not have local Facebook accounts for Ireland. Often brands group Ireland with their UK Facebook page and use dark posts to target Ireland specific users. Posts can then be tailored for different offers and currencies depending on the region targeted. With View Ads users can now see all posts brands have published, including offers that may be available only in the UK, or products that are not on sale locally. This may cause confusion amongst consumer groups as to what products are available to them. Brands will then have less control over how and when their content is seen.

On the flip side, the ability to see all ads being published by brands will create new layers of transparency to the advertising world. Furthermore, brands can now see exactly how the competition is acting. Until now, only organic content has been searchable, and not very representative of a brand's efforts in social spaces.

With this new-found market research available, it will be interesting to see how brands respond. Will our news feed become cluttered with various brand ads from the same field or will we see brands finding new and more engaging ways of targeting their users to cut through the potential clutter?

Soon there will be no dark side of Facebook, all brands will be brought into the light. Cue Star Wars theme music……

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