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Photo Illustration: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook on Friday said it's testing new advertiser "topic exclusion controls" to help address concerns marketers may have that their ads are appearing next to topics in Facebook's News Feed that they consider bad for their brand.  

Why it matters: As Axios has previously noted, the chaotic nature of the modern news cycle and digital advertising landscape has made it nearly impossible for brands to run ads against quality content in an automated fashion without encountering bad content.

  • Most advertisers buy ads on Facebook through an automated bidding system.

Details: The controls will help advertisers choose which types of stories they may want to bypass in Facebook's News Feed.

  • For example, an advertiser can select a topic, like Crime and Tragedy, that they would want their ads to avoid, and Facebook's tech will try not to align that ad next to any stories related to those topics.
  • Facebook says it's planning to offer three topics: news and politics, social issues, and crime and tragedy. It will continue to listen to advertisers during the test to learn what needs to be added or adjusted.

Yes, but: Some fear these types of advertiser controls will inadvertently push marketers away from placing ads around news, especially during breaking news.

  • In the past, brands have created blacklists, or lists of words or websites to avoid when buying automated ads. But blacklists aren't foolproof and often inadvertently block quality news sites from receiving ad revenue.
  • This filter presumably aims to be more precise than a broad blacklist of keywords but could determine whether ads appear next to news content.

The big picture: Facebook has committed to developing better industrywide solutions for how it moderates its content through an industry coalition called The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM).

  • This update is meant to address some of GARM's recommendations.

What they're saying: "Providing advertisers topic exclusion tools to control the content their ads appear next to is incredibly important work for us, and to our commitment to the industry via GARM," says Facebook VP Global Business Group Carolyn Everson.

  • "With privacy at the center of the work, we’re starting to develop and test for a control that will apply to News Feed. It will take time, but it’s the right work to do.” 

What's next: Facebook anticipates that the product development, as well as testing and learning in News Feed, will take much of the year.

Go deeper

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Facebook seeks a new head of U.S. public policy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is looking externally for a new U.S. policy chief as it moves Kevin Martin, a Republican who now holds the job, to a different position, per a memo seen by Axios.

Between the lines: Facebook is moving on from the Trump era in which Republicans held most of the power in Washington and Facebook was particularly eager among tech companies to forge warm relations with GOP policymakers.

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech is outsourcing its hardest content moderation decisions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with the increasingly daunting task of consistent content moderation at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure they face for how they govern their platforms.

Why it matters: Every policy change, enforcement action or lack thereof prompts accusations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making politically motivated decisions to either be too lax or too harsh. Ceding responsibility to others outside the company may be the future of content moderation if it works.

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