At Anyword, we’ve seen firsthand how tricky it can be for marketers to navigate Facebook content policy. With extensive guidelines that are updated and revised regularly, it can be difficult for busy content creators to stay up-to-date and compliant without running into a few obstacles once in a while. Unfortunately, it’s common for marketers to spend time creating campaigns and then face setbacks when Facebook disapproves their ads.

We get it. We’ve been there.  

Not only do situations like this use up time and resources, but they can also compromise your account’s standing with Facebook and negatively impact the reach and pricing of your campaigns. Facebook doesn’t do this with the intent of making the lives of marketers harder, though. These rules are in place and enforced to provide the best experience possible for the 2.45 billion Facebook users around the globe. 

Over the years, we’ve successfully managed countless campaigns for hundreds of publishers. Along with this experience, we’ve amassed a wealth of data that has allowed us to glean valuable insights for avoiding disapproval on Facebook. Rather than keeping this information to ourselves, we wanted to share it with the broader storytelling community.

Important Disclaimer: The information in this blog post should be viewed as recommendations for best practices based on our (rather extensive) experience, it should not be seen as official Facebook content moderation policy. For the latest guidelines, we recommend consulting the websites for Facebook Policies and Community Standards.

The No-Brainers: Adult Content, Drugs, and Profanity

Unsurprisingly, Facebook does not allow advertisers to promote adult or drug-related content. The platform also prohibits profanity in sponsored posts. Rather than stating what is likely obvious to most marketers, we’ll cover some of the more nuanced guidelines in each of these areas. 

Adult Content

As nearly any Facebook user would guess, adult content is not allowed on the platform. Period. Advertisers aren’t allowed to promote adult products, either. 

One important caveat when it comes to promoting bedroom-related content is when it provides educational value, such as an article warning of the increasing prevalence of STIs among the elderly in Florida.

Drugs

Although the legality of specific drugs varies by state in the US, it’s still against Facebook content policy to promote content that encourages recreational drug use regardless of a user’s location. For example, an article with the headline “The Top 10 Movies to Watch While You’re High” would not be allowed — even in Colorado. 

However, there is an exception to this rule. Facebook still permits paid distribution when the drug-related content is considered “newsworthy,” like coverage of the opioid epidemic or a major drug bust.

Profanity

Explicit language may be common on Facebook as a whole, but using profanity in sponsored content is strictly prohibited. This rule extends to abbreviations for phrases that include four-letter words, like “AF” or “BS,” as well as attempts to skirt around the regulations by replacing letters with symbols. Similarly, Facebook is also cracking down on the “sexual use” of particular emoji, depending on the context around them.

Additionally, landing pages with profanity may also face disapproval because Facebook content removal policy clearly states that ads must accurately convey the content that users will see post-click. We’ll discuss landing pages more later on in this post.

Sensational Content

Facebook does not permit advertisers to put money behind “sensational” ads with creatives that may shock or scare users. Examples include content with graphics that depict medical procedures, needles, hospital rooms, or anything else that the platform considers “gory.” 

For example, you wouldn’t be allowed to promote an article with the headline “More people are getting the flu shot now than ever,” alongside a photo of someone receiving an injection using a hypodermic needle.

Image depicting discriminatory content with the phrase "fix your terrible turquoise hair"

Discriminatory Content

In the eyes of Facebook, discriminatory content highlights a user’s personal attributes negatively. Let’s imagine that someone has turquoise hair. You’re not allowed to target ads that say, “Fix your terrible turquoise hair” because it’s considered discriminatory. (And for the record, we think turquoise hair is cool.)

Sponsored content should not make users feel like they’re being attacked in any way or foster any negative self-awareness. To use another example, imagine Facebook serves an ad to someone suffering from acne that asks, “Are you battling acne?” The user on the receiving end would immediately think, “I am battling acne, and I’m seeing this ad. Why am I seeing it?!” Not a very pleasant user experience.

Instead, the focus of the ad should be the product. Still, you should avoid promoting anything that may potentially bring down a user’s self-esteem, as it would be subject to disapproval.

Image depicting Facebook's policy on weapons. A raised bow is not approved. A lowered bow is approved.

Weapons

Generally speaking, Facebook policy is self-explanatory when it comes to weapons. You can’t promote content that encourages the sale or the use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives.

A fun example to illustrate this is to think about The Hunger Games’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and her iconic bow and arrow. Facebook would allow you to promote content showing Katniss holding the bow and arrow next to her side or over her shoulder because they’re not in use. On the other hand, Facebook would not allow you to promote an image depicting Katness pointing her bow and arrow as if she were hunting because it implies violence.

Content related to hunting can fall within a special category that advertisers can promote, though the Facebook Page would need special authorization to do so. Once authorized, the Page’s advertiser must follow strict guidelines, like ensuring that campaigns are only targeting users who are 18 years old and up.

Politics

Let’s talk briefly about politics. Any content that has to do with the promotion, discussion, or advocacy for social issues, civil rights, immigration, economy, government, and other related matters may fall under the umbrella of “political content.” Moreover, promoted content must comply with the country-specific Facebook policy of the country in which you’re promoting the content, since each country has its own set of rules.

As a publisher, there are two main options:

  1. A Page can become authorized to run political content by registering with Facebook and then tagging political posts as such.
  2. If you’re a news publisher or part of the media (and can prove it to Facebook), then you’re allowed to promote political content without tagging it as political.

Depicting clickbait content. Fishing hook drawing mouse cursors.

Clickbait and Withholding Language

Clickbait. You know it when you see it. 

When you boil it down, clickbait misleads a user. More specifically, clickbait on Facebook promises a post-click experience that is wildly inconsistent with the payoff that is promised by the ad creative. Prime examples of this are ads with post text that says either “You won’t believe…” or “You’ll never guess…” Why? Because more often than not, the content is, in fact, plausible to some degree. For advertisers, a good rule of thumb is to avoid overemphasizing or over exaggerating. Instead, simply state what the content is truly about — that is, what the user can expect to see once they click the ad.

Another common way for ads to wind up disapproved is the use of “withholding language.” You can think of it as being in the same family as clickbait, though the tactics to get users to click are usually more subtle. True to its name, “withholding language” encourages users to click by withholding information in the ad headline or post copy. 

Examples of copy employing “withholding language” include:

  • “You’ll never guess who fell on the red carpet at the Oscars.”
  • “You won’t believe who Beyonce unfollowed on Instagram today.”
  • “This one vitamin is changing the lives of people across the country.”

Landing Pages

For the most part, all of the rules we’ve discussed apply to both the ad itself and the post-click landing page that Facebook users encounter.

Aside from that, other landing page issues can lead Facebook to disapprove an ad. One common offense is promoting a landing page with a high ad-to-content ratio. Ad-heavy pages lead to a bad user experience, including high load times and bounce rates.

Lately, Facebook is more actively discouraging the use of photo galleries that require users to click to view the next slide. Since the platform is happier distributing sponsored stories where the post-click user experience is more pleasant, a standard solution here is to opt instead for infinite scroll technology.

Happy Facebook Users = Happy Advertisers

At the end of the day, Facebook creating and strictly enforcing its advertising policies comes from the company’s need to create a safe and pleasant experience for its users. Facebook can only sell advertising space if users continue scrolling through their feeds, and that’s precisely what happy users spend more time doing. 

Ultimately, Facebook’s policies also benefit the publishers who are paying to distribute their content on the platform. By creating an enjoyable experience for such a vast and varied user base, Facebook offers content creators unrivaled reach and potential to scale. 

At Anyword, a day rarely goes by in which we don’t learn something new about Facebook’s ever-evolving content policies; we learn from our customers, our internal campaigns, and directly from our friends at Facebook. We hope that we’ve imparted some of this knowledge on to you, too.

If you need help navigating Facebook policy and would like to learn how Anyword can help, please get in touch.