Lawsuit: Meta placed ads next to content sexualizing minors

Meta has been accused of running corporate ads next to content that sexualizes underage users.

The allegations by Walmart, along with Tinder’s parent company Match Group, have been made public as part of a lawsuit filed by the New Mexico attorney general’s office last month.

Why we care. Placing ads alongside illegal content poses a serious threat to brand safety. The potential fallout not only includes reputational damage but also significantly diminishes the chances of an ad reaching its intended audience, likely causing a significant impact on ROI.

The claim. New Mexico Attorney General, Raúl Torrez, has accused Meta of “enabling adults to find, message and groom minors” for sexual exploitation. He said in a statement:

  • “New evidence indicates Meta officials are duping corporate advertisers and permitting sponsored content to appear alongside deeply disturbing images and videos that clearly violate Meta’s promised standards.”
  • “Mr Zuckerberg and Meta are refusing to be honest and transparent about what is taking place on Meta’s platforms.”

Match reacts. Match reportedly informed Meta that ads for its dating apps were running adjacent to “disturbing” and “clearly illegal” content, including graphic films of women being murdered, reports the Guardian. When Meta allegedly failed to take action, Match’s CEO, Bernard Kim, wrote a complaint directly to Mark Zuckerberg – but he allegedly did not respond.

Walmart responds. Meta filed a complaint to Meta in October, claiming that the social media giant’s “level of attention/consideration” to brand safety had “disappeared.” Responding to the court filing, a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement:

  • “We take brand safety issues extremely seriously, and protecting our customers and communities will always be a top priority.”

What Meta is saying. A spokesperson for Meta told Search Engine Land:

  • “We don’t want this kind of content on our platforms and brands don’t want their ads to appear next to it.”
  • “We continue to invest aggressively to stop it – and report every quarter on the prevalence of such content, which remains very low.”
  • “Our systems are effective at reducing violating content, and we’ve invested billions in safety, security and brand suitability solutions.”

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Deep dive. Read New Mexico’s Department of Justice’s announcement in full for more information.

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About the author

Nicola Agius

Nicola Agius is Paid Media Editor of Search Engine Land after joining in 2023. She covers paid search, paid social, retail media and more. Prior to this, she was SEO Director at Jungle Creations (2020-2023), overseeing the company’s editorial strategy for multiple websites. She has over 15 years of experience in journalism and has previously worked at OK! Magazine (2010-2014), Mail Online (2014-2015), Mirror (2015-2017), Digital Spy (2017-2018) and The Sun (2018-2020). She also previously teamed up with SEO agency Blue Array to co-author Amazon bestselling book Mastering In-House SEO.

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