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Classroom Connection: Teen Vogue’s Facebook piece deemed a ‘misunderstanding’


A flattering piece about Facebook posted by Teen Vogue was the source of much confusion last week. “How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Election” appeared on Jan. 8 without any indication that it was a piece of sponsored content, paid for by the world’s largest social media company.

Soon after it was posted, an editor’s note — “This is sponsored editorial content” — was added at the top. Later, that note was removed. Finally, the entire piece disappeared. Lauren Rearick, a contributor to Teen Vogue, was at one point listed as the author, but she told Mashable that she didn’t write it. Asked on Twitter what the piece was, Teen Vogue replied: “literally idk.”

In a post that was later deleted, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, called it a “great Teen Vogue piece about five incredible women protecting elections on Facebook.” A company spokeswoman initially said that the piece was “purely editorial”; later, Facebook said that “there was a misunderstanding” and that it indeed “had a paid partnership with Teen Vogue related to their women’s summit, which included sponsored content.”

In its statement, Teen Vogue said: “We made a series of errors labeling this piece, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused. 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.”

Ideas for discussion

What is the difference between a piece of sponsored content (also known as “branded content” or “native advertising”) and a piece of journalism? Is it important for news outlets to clearly label such content? Why? If you were in charge of Teen Vogue, how would you have handled the piece about Facebook? Was Teen Vogue right to delete it? Did it sufficiently explain how the mistakes in handling the piece were made? Does this change the level of trust you have in Teen Vogue? Why or why not?

Related activities

Have students find examples of sponsored content published by up to five different standards-based news organizations. Ask students to note the differences between the sponsored content and the straight news coverage from the same outlet. In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different? Do they look the same, or are they labeled differently?

Learn more

“Branded Content,” a lesson in the Checkology® virtual classroom (Premium account required).

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