- Teen Vogue published — and then deleted — an uncritical story about Facebook that has prompted widespread bewilderment.
- The story was about Facebook’s 2020 election work, and some internet users suspected it was un-labelled sponsored content.
- Teen Vogue then added a note saying it was sponsored content, before removing it again. A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that it wasn’t.
- The Teen Vogue Twitter account said “literally idk” in response to an inquiry, and now the entire story has vanished.
Is Teen Vogue running sponsored content about Facebook?
An uncritical story in Teen Vogue about Facebook’s efforts to secure its social network ahead of the 2020 election caused bewilderment over contradictory messages about whether it was paid for by Facebook — before it just disappeared completely.
On Wednesday, Teen Vogue published “How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election.” It’s a 2,000-word-plus story comprising a series of interviews with various senior Facebook employees about how the Silicon Valley tech giant is working to avoid nefarious political activity in the United States’ upcoming presidential election.
The positive tone of the piece — and lack of byline indicating who wrote it — led some on Twitter to speculate that it was actually a piece of “sponsored content,” an article paid for and overseen by Facebook to promote itself.
This suspicion was seemingly confirmed when, some time after publishing, Teen Vogue appended a note to the top of the story, reading: “Editor’s note: This is sponsored editorial content.”
The note raised questions about editorial ethics — why wasn’t this disclosed from the start? — but the saga doesn’t end there. Facebook now denies that it’s sponsored content, saying it’s just a regular article, and the note has now disappeared from the top of the story again.
Sponsored native content, in which companies pay for media organizations to produce positive articles that appear similar to traditional news stories, are an increasingly popular method of monetization for many publications (including Business Insider). Some studies have been critical of the ad format, arguing they can mislead news consumers.
In an email to Business Insider, Facebook spokesperson Lisa Stratton said: “This piece is purely editorial. We pitched this to Teen Vogue and worked with their team on the piece over the past few months.” (Companies communication teams will sometimes pitch news outlets on possible stories, in the same way news outlets will reach out to companies to ask for interviews and access, and it’s not a sign of a financial relationship or underhand behaviour.)”
Teen Vogue, meanwhile, didn’t have answers either. Spokespeople for the magazine didn’t immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, and an employee with access to its official Twitter account responded with befuddlement to an inquiry in a now-deleted tweet: “literally idk”.
In the latest twist, the story then vanished altogether. Visitors to the URL are now greeted with a message saying: “Unfortunately this page does not exist. Please check your URL or return to the Homepage.”
As of writing, it’s not clear why the post was taken down, by who, or even who wrote it in the first place.
Former Teen Vogue editorial director Philip Picardi, apparently believing the post was in fact sponsored content, attached his former employer over the incident.
“I am so sorry to the @TeenVogue team for whatever irresponsible sales or marketing staff pushed this article into their feed, therefore discrediting all the GOOD work they’ve been doing to educate their audience about the REAL threats posed by @Facebook in our election,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Oh, and fuck @Facebook and @fbnewsroom for using their billions earned from deceitful politicians and misinformation campaigns to attempt to buy their way into publications at @CondeNast. Their motives are so insidious, and they continue to be the downfall of democracy.”
Regardless of whether the Teen Vogue story was in fact sponsored content, Facebook has made use of the advertising format in the past.
As Business Insider reported in April 2019, the company paid British newspaper The Daily Telegraph to run positive stories that defend it on hot-button issues it has been criticised over like terrorist content, online safety, cyberbullying, fake accounts, and hate speech.
“Fake news, cyberbullying, artificial intelligence — it seems like life in the internet age can be a scary place,” the articles said. “That’s why Telegraph Spark and Facebook have teamed up to show how Facebook and other social media platforms are harnessing the power of the internet to protect your personal data.”
Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at (+1) 650-636-6268 using a non-work device, email at email@example.com, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.)
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