Twitter was the target of the ethical controversy in the midst of Ferguson unrest when advertisements, posed to look like actual “tweets,” infiltrated users’ news feed to promote products such as donuts and video games. From the night of the grand jury’s verdict on Nov. 24 through the afternoon of the next day, 3.3 million Ferguson-related tweets were posted, making tweets such as Game of War’s automatic ad slogan “War is coming! Will you be the hero?” via model Kate Upton’s profile seem insensitive and poorly timed. Ferguson became the most discussed subject on the social media pulpit that night, as people shared their feelings on the case and on the ultimate injustice of institutionalized racism.
“Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise ‘We will camouflage your ads to make them look like news stories’” Ken Auletta, contributor for The New Yorker, said. The questionable nature of native ads left many wondering if social media is a conducive platform to discuss national issues and if there are ethical ramifications of native ads.
According to Sharethrough.com, consumers viewed native ads 52 percent more frequently than traditional banner ads. In fact, a study by Rich Media Gallery reported that only 0.11 percent of people click on these simple media ads. This low ratio has lead to support for native ads from many companies including Google. News outlets such as CNN and The New York Times also had interruptions of advertising throughout their coverage of Ferguson, the difference being that these ads lack the deception of native ads.
Controversy with native advertising stems from the fact that consumers have a difficult time distinguishing between news stories and advertisements. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a study showing that only 41 percent of news readers were able to distinguish the difference between news and native ads.