I noticed an interesting notification when I was playing around with one of my “other” Google+ pages and was sharing content from the Hustler Google+ feed. I didn’t notice any notifications when I was initially sharing the page and my “other” Google+ page which I was sharing as has been set-up to be suitable for 18+ only so didn’t expect to see the message below on my feed. It was a notification that what I had shared via Hustler had violated Google+ policies, it was not something I posted just something I had shared.
While Google+ has been known to censor profile images that are deemed offensive as MG Siegler found out in the past and even Reddit has discovered a secret list of “undesirable” words you cannot use in Google+ posts, which was flagged as a “bug”. This appeared to be something bigger as what was the implications of automated filtering of content shared by a real business?
Google+ Content Policy
I know that Google+ has followed some of Facebook’s guidelines around contests & promotion policies but it’s the first time I’ve seen a shared post flagged to violation of Google+ policies. I have to admit the page sharing the content was involved in the adult industry, but the post by Hustler shown below did not contain sexually explicit material, just a girl in lingerie and a link to their website.
The bigger point of concern is Hustler is a real business and did not appear to be overly spammy with the message below was “Happy Monday Allie James getting ready for her sexy scene Anaconda Mama. Visit Hustler.com to see her in action”. I did have the option to “submit this post for review” but should it be my responsibility to appeal on behalf of Hustler so I’m able to share their content?
Compared so some many of the standard spammy and self-promotional updates brands typically offer via Google+ I don’t believe this message would be something that should trip any policy filters outside of the possible call to action that is highlighted as a violation under Google+ content policy guidelines as they “drive traffic to a commercial pornography site”?
Also the concern would be for digital marketers in the adult industry what does Google+ defines as a “commercial pornography website”? I tested with sharing Playboy.com Google+ posts which also link to their homepage and there was no filter tripped, so was it just Hustler.com that has been targeted for censorship?
Google+ is fine with the sex trade…
There are also lots of other services with Google+ such as escorts & brothels that I tested sharing their posts with links to their homepages and no content flags were shown. So Google is comfortable with links shared that promote websites focusing on prostitution and sex trade but Hustler has crossed the line? So how has Google managed to overlook the promotion of sexual services for money via it’s Google+ network but Hustler is banned from including a link to their homepage?
Why should you be concerned?
The bigger concern is that note that the policy will only stay visible to you the person who shared the post and Google will delete it in a few weeks. This does sound more like censorship by Google than anything else as it’s the people sharing the content that are being flagged.
Should you be now having to monitor your posts a month later to check back to ensure they have not been deleted because Google didn’t highlight your content violated their policies?
Remember that Google was only flagging the links to Hustler.com so any affiliate links or short URLs were fine to use when driving traffic to “commercial pornography websites”, just not links to the primary domain.
But the interesting issue is that I don’t believe that Hustler would not be alerted to the fact their post has flagged for violation, as I checked and you can see the share on the original post so everything would look normal. I’m not sure what might be the implication on their brand and it’s not clear if these types of notifications were why the shares on some of their posts are so low? Would you continue to share Hustler content if it was always going to be flagged for review? It’s likely users would shift to Playboy.com that doesn’t have the same censorship issues.
What could it be that violated Google+ policies?
I checked sharing several of their other posts that contained more racey images posted by Hustler but contained no link to their homepage and I had no warning notifications. I also shared Hustler posts that contained links to their homepage and they were also flagged with the notification.
I did a check with some of their posts that contained affiliate links via short URLs and currently it seems they were able to sneak through Google’s automated filters. The violations don’t appear to be related to the images context so should not be tripping “sexually explicit material” policy but could appear to be related to “spam” policy? Has Hustler.com just been sharing too many links to their homepage? Is it that easy to trip Google+ content policy by over promotion?
I tested sharing some softcore porn images via other Google+ pages and these didn’t trip any filters and these images were much more likely to violate Google+ content policy guidelines than Hustler every would. Is it just the Hustler.com domain that has been flagged or has Google+ censored a brand when they are doing posts that have a commercial benefit of driving visitors outside of Google+?
What does this mean for Google+ pages?
It’s too early to tell but it does seem that Google+ does have a automated filter in place and it does imply a dangerous precedent for by Google to play big brother and make their platform not a friendly place for digital marketing. It’s also possible that having a “verified” Google+ page allows businesses to push the Google+ content policies further?
It does raise a concern about how friendly Google+ might be to brands as currently it’s still a platform set-up for users and seems to restrict marketers more than encourage them by these types of issues. Have you seen anything similar before and if so what brands or pages, I want to hear about it in the comments below.