Commentary

Email Safe Haven: Are Facebook's Policies Driving Brands Away?

Most publishers have little in common with Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist kicked off Facebook and other channels this week. But they still have reason to be concerned about Facebook policy. 

Recent changes are convincing them that “Facebook is not their friend and that they’re better off finding alternatives,” says Jeff Kupietzky, CEO PowerInbox. “There’s a larger category of restrictions on what you’re allowed to advertise — they’re not able to buy traffic with the same ease.”

In contrast, email can be used in a more targeted way without fear of “capricious decisions of what’s acceptable,” Kupietzky adds. “Newsletters become a great forum.”

Worries about Facebook pre-date the Cambridge Analytica scandal and recent publicity about hate speech. They started last year, when Facebook changed its algorithm to favor family and friend material over publisher content.

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“It’s hard to get up in the ranking,” Kupietzky says. “Traffic fell.” 

But those concerns pale next to the uproar over hate speech.

“One of the segments we play in is political content,” Kupietzky says. This field includes “interest groups that believe in the First or Second Amendment, or have points of view on religion and the state that they feel very passionate about.”

He adds that they now “run the risk of being blocked seen as political or too political.”

Does that mean Facebook is cutting them off? No. But publishers may be confused “until the lines are more clearly understood,” Kupietzky says.

He concedes that “most of our partners use Facebook for audience expansion and acquisition.” But traffic can also be built using email.

Wait — isn’t scattershot email prospecting a no-no? On the contrary, he means permission-based, double opt-in email.

Opt-in email has the virtue of serving people already interested in the content. The advertiser can see if the reader has opened or clicked on a newsletter, and can that “unique identifier” — the email address — to gain demographic insights. It’s respectful of privacy because “it’s hashed — you just know they are unique,” Kupietzky says.

Kupietzky is hardly a neutral observer. His company is an adtech platform that facilitates email and claims to have 100 million unique users. He is promoting an ebook called "Publishers: What’s Next After Facebook?"

Email isn’t immune to these public pressures. Email service provider MailChimp has also terminated Alex Jones’ InfoWars.

Is Facebook censoring people? Kupietzky says “no comment.” 

Censorship may be too loaded a word: As commentators have noted, Facebook is in the private sphere and can set its own policies. Conversely, attempted government censorship would be a First Amendment issue.

Here’s another question that we haven’t seen addressed: By starting to control content, are Facebook and the other platforms opening themselves up to lawsuits when defamatory material is published? Up to now, they could claim they were simply a conduit. 

 

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