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Social media ads 'posing as articles' are a problem, says media exec Vivek Shah

Max Zahn
Reporter

The most concerning ads on social media are those “posing as articles,” says Vivek Shah, who runs J2 Global, an advertising and media company that owns sites including Mashable, IGN, and PCMag.

Misleading ads posted on social media by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign last fall raised ire over a Facebook (FB) policy that allows false political ads on the platform and led rival Twitter (TWTR) to ban political ads from its site altogether.

But in a response to a question about the controversy, Shah said social media platforms have a bigger advertising problem on their hands.

“I think the challenge is what is most problematic are ads posing as articles that then can be amplified through the advertising system inside of social media,” he says. “I think that's a problem because I think people think they're reading content, journalism. It's not ads that are clearly ads.”

“I think a lot of people need to define advertising,” he adds.

In January, Facebook reaffirmed its commitment to allow false political ads, just weeks before Trump’s re-election campaign posted hundreds of advertisements on Facebook claiming that the press would prevent the airing of an upcoming super bowl ad, even though federal rules mandated the airing of the ad. Last August, Facebook strengthened its rules for advertisements on social issues or elections, bolstering its authorization process and requiring advertisers to divulge additional information to users.

Tech giants like Facebook and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) have elicited backlash from some media companies, which say the platforms reward sensational and even false content. But Shah disagrees, saying tech giants “favor quality” and have been vital to the company’s success.

“We have figured out ways in which to work with the various platforms,” he says. “I tend to find that they favor quality and they favor premium.”

Shah made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

J2 Global makes over a billion in annual revenue, and has made more than 170 acquisitions since its founding in 1995. Before his current position, Shah served as CEO at Ziff Davis and in senior administrative roles at Time Inc.

Last year, he ranked tenth on the Equilar-New York Times list of the highest paid CEOs, bringing in an annual compensation of about $45 million.

J2 Global CEO Vivek Shah appears on Influencers with Andy Serwer

Concerns about exaggeration and misinformation on social media platforms and search engines have recently centered on the coronavirus and anti-vaccine activism. Criticism reached a fever pitch after the 2016 presidential election, the outcome of which some have attributed to a disinformation campaign on Facebook and other platforms carried out by a Russian intelligence agency.

Shah said devices and platforms produced by big tech comprise a crucial source of readers for J2 Global-owned sites.

“Google is the largest source of traffic for us,” he adds, also noting the role of Apple (AAPL): “When you look at the volume of traffic that is coming through iPhones and iOS devices, it's stunning.”

He also pointed to Amazon (AMZN), Facebook, and Instagram as valuable to the company’s success.

“They’re all important to us,” he says.

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