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Teen Vogue Facebook 'Article' Causes Much Confusion

Glowing piece was actually a paid ad, but it wasn't labeled as such
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2020 7:50 AM CST

(Newser) – Facebook is taking much criticism for how it allows political misinformation to appear on the site. But this week, some good press seemed to appear. "How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election," read the flattering Teen Vogue headline. A photo of a five female executives accompanied the piece, which was a Q&A with them. As it turns out, the piece was too flattering. In fact, it was a paid ad, but it wasn't labeled as such. Confusing statements from both companies involved didn't help clear things up. The related details:

  • The start: The article appeared Wednesday on the Teen Vogue site without a byline. Questions immediately sprang up online, and soon a small line in italics appeared above the piece: "Editor's note: This is sponsored editorial content," per the New York Times. Then the note disappeared. At one point, the name of a Teen Vogue contributor appeared above it, but she tells Mashable she had noting to do with it. Then the whole article disappeared.

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  • Loved it: Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg shared the article, before it disappeared, on her Facebook page, notes Rob Price of Business Insider. "Great Teen Vogue piece about five incredible women protecting elections on Facebook," she wrote, adding that the company is working "to stop the spread of misinformation."
  • Mea culpa: "We made a series of errors labeling this piece, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused," said a statement from Condé Nast, the magazine's publisher. "We don't take our audience’s trust for granted, and ultimately decided that the piece should be taken down entirely to avoid further confusion." It has not further elaborated.
  • Facebook: The company initially said the article was "purely editorial," reports the Washington Post. But it later said the piece was part of an arrangement for its sponsorship of a summit hosted by the magazine last year. "We had a paid partnership with Teen Vogue related to their women's summit, which included sponsored content," says a company statement. "Our team understood this story was purely editorial, but there was a misunderstanding."
  • Weird choice: At the Verge, Casey Newton finds the Facebook approach here a little baffling. "The thing about your integrity efforts is that you want to promote them with, you know, integrity," writes Newton. "Slipping them into online magazines as articles with a small-font disclosure that the thing was bought and paid for undermines the very credibility you were hoping to bolster. Especially if the magazine screws up and forgets to disclose!"
  • Fitting response: Many stories on the controversy note that when someone on Twitter asked what was going on, the magazine's verified account responded, "literally idk." The response has since been deleted.
  • The ad: The article may have disappeared from the magazine's web page, but it still exists in archived form here.
(Read more Facebook stories.)

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