Commentary

'Teen Vogue' Debacle With Facebook Brings Teachable Moment

Condé Nast's Teen Voguelast week mishandled the publication of a glowing story about Facebook, inadvertently presenting a teachable moment for publishers as the lines between advertising and content get blurrier.

Teen Vogue, which only has a digital edition after ending print distribution in 2017, posted a story titled “How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election”without a byline to indicate it was an editorial item. The web page also didn't have a statement to let readers know that Facebook had paid for the story.

Using "Facebook" and "integrity" in the same sentence rightly aroused suspicion, setting Twitter ablaze with denouncements of Teen Vogueas a lapdog for a social network that's been repeatedly accused of screwing up elections worldwide.

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Although the article didn't show an advertising disclaimer, there were plenty of clues that it was paid content.

Presented as a question-and-answer interview with five female Facebook executives tasked with protecting democracy, the story was a bloated mess of vague answers to softball questions like: "How can Facebook ameliorate political tribalism and does it have a responsibility to?"

Soon after the article was posted, an editor's note appeared at the top saying: "This is sponsored editorial content." That line later vanished, followed by the disappearance of the entire story.

“We made a series of errors labeling this piece, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused," Condé Nast said in a statement. "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.”

Facebook threw Condé Nast under the bus with its own account about the origins of the article.

“We had a paid partnership with Teen Vogue related to its women’s summit, which included sponsored content,” Facebook said in a statement cited by The New York Times. “Our team understood this story was purely editorial, but there was a misunderstanding.”<

The mistake can serve to remind publishers about the necessity of proper ad disclosures to maintain reader trust and avoid regulatory scrutiny. That's especially true when Facebook, a major target for the Federal Trade Commission, is the sponsor.

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