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Facebook advertisers have been alarmed after a campaign group drew their attention to some of the Facebook sites their adverts were appearing next to. Advertisers ranging from Shelter to RSPB and Dove Cosmetics were warned that their adverts were appearing on sites promoting violence against women.

So how is this happening?


Campaign

The campaign is being organised by the Everyday Sexism Project, which has been contacting advertisers, and using its Twitter feed to post screenshots of adverts for household names alongside offensive pages, such as "kicking your girlfriend in the f**** because she won't make you a sandwich".

Shelter responded on Twitter saying it would be "contacting Facebook to see if there's anything we can do to stop this from happening" after its advert appeared on a page called 'raping'.

Some advertisers have been voting with their feet. After web hosting provider WestHost was informed that its adverts were appearing on the 'raping' page, it responded on Twitter that it would be pulling its adverts entirely.

Laura Bates, who is leading the campaign, told AOL: "Almost all the advertisers we have contacted have swiftly responded, publicly stating they are concerned and will take action, and one advertiser, West Host, has confirmed it will be removing all ads from Facebook as a result. The fact that their advertisers clearly don't see these pages as 'harmless' suggests that Facebook might need to reconsider its stance, and quickly."

Offensive

Facebook highlights that it does not deliberately position these adverts next to these pages. Adverts are targeted at the user, and will appear next to whichever pages they choose to look at.

Facebook says it will act quickly to remove offensive pages. However, clearly some pages are slipping through the net.

Part of the issue is that Facebook is enormous. It needs for pages to be reported before it knows to take them down, so offensive pages can exist for a short while before they are brought to the attention of administrators. Some of the pages named by the campaign have been deemed offensive and removed.

A Facebook spokesperson told AOL: "We have removed several of the pages highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project as they broke our rules. There is no place on Facebook for content that is hateful, threatening, or incites violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful. We react quickly to remove reported language or images that violate our terms and we encourage people to report questionable content using links located throughout the site."

However, other pages remain, because of the vexing issue of what is offensive and what isn't. This is always going to be a subjective issue. Facebook states its position in its terms, saying: "You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user. You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."

However, it has also made it clear in a statement in 2011 that "Groups or pages that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs - even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some - do not by themselves violate our policies."

It means that some things which are deemed to be dark humour by Facebook - and therefore allowed to remain as long as they are classed as controversial humour - are considered to be offensive by others.

But what do you think? Is this offence a necessary evil in the defence of free speech, or a huge reputational risk to advertisers? Let us know in the comments.