U.K. Firms Pull Facebook Ads Over Political Fears

Three leading companies have pulled advertising from social network site Facebook over concerns that their ads were appearing next to a far-right British political party's content.

Mobile phone giant Vodafone, cable operator Virgin Media and HSBC's online banking arm First Direct all suspended their Facebook ads, fearing their brands would be sullied if linked to the British National Party (BNP).

Their decision to withdraw advertising is a fresh challenge for the fast-growing social networking website, accused by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal this week of doing too little to protect young users from sexual predators.

Ads pop up on Facebook pages on an alternating basis, giving companies limited say over where they are displayed.

BNP's official Facebook page, on which some of the companies' ads were showing, lists party policies such as ending immigration and foreign aid.

"To avoid misunderstandings we immediately withdrew our advertising as soon as this was brought to our attention," Vodafone said in a statement.

"We are working with our media buyer OMD to ensure that more robust controls are in place before we agree to any potential re-investment."

Virgin Media said it would "temporarily suspend advertising on Facebook and other social networking sites" until given assurances that better controls were in place.

"We have an obvious desire, and a duty to consumers, to ensure we advertise in a responsible way," it said in a statement.

For online advertising, companies often buy bundles of thousands of spaces through brokers, which then place their ads on a variety of websites.

New Media Age magazine was first to alert the companies that their ads were coming up on BNP's Facebook page.

A BNP spokesman said the party had become a "bogeyman" despite being legally registered with Britain's electoral commission and that there was no reason for companies to pull their ads.

"These people seem to shy away from anything that's near to us," BNP spokesman Phil Edwards said. "I can only suppose that it's because they've been conditioned and brain-washed by the media, who've told lies about us." Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

By: Simon Rabinovitch

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