Facebook wades into the ad-blocking war

1.     When does it work?

The changes come into play with immediate effect. On 9 August Facebook published a blog post entitled ‘A New Way to Control the Ads You See on Facebook, and an Update on Ad Blocking’. 

AND an update on ad-blocking!? It’s kind of like…here’s some ice-cream, here’s a message from your long lost lover [cough] andyoucantblockadsanymore.

It should also be noted that this update specifically relates to Facebook desktop, as ad-blocking within the Facebook App is already ineffective, and as for mobile Facebook browser usage, well who’s going to partake in that – apart from me when I’m trying to ‘@’ in branded pages from my personal account by circumnavigating Facebook’s eccentric corporate/consumer silos ?

2.     How does it work?

A lot of publications are conceptualising this as “Facebook blocking the ad blockers”. But actually it doesn’t really work like that. Facebook is scrambling its code to make it more difficult for the ad-blockers to recognise branded content as advertising. Or as WIRED eloquently put it, “the company will try to slip its ads past your ad blocker by digitally disguising them as organic content.”

So in other words if you like your Star Trek it’s akin to a Klingon Bird of Prey cloaking right before the very eyes of the Starship Enterprise. And if you don’t like Star Trek…well I suppose you’ve got no business reading geeky articles about the technical aspects of Facebook ad-blocking, to be honest. 

3.     Will it work?

Well. This announcement came on Tuesday and by Thursday Adblock Plus had already put out a counter-announcement that it had found a work around to Facebook’s workaround. Facebook has subsequently countered that counter with a counter of its own, saying that the initial workaround workaround has now been worked around. It is a war basically, at business level. And that microcosm between Facebook and Adblock Plus is one that’s been waging at macro level throughout the industry for some time now.

Tug of war ()

One of the problems Facebook has got is that it wants to make it as easy as possible for users at the front end to identify paid vs. organic content, so surely the clues for the ad-blockers are literally in the title. We’ve looked ourselves recently at how Facebook wants to restrict organic growth for brands, choosing instead to make the maximum haul it can from ad revenue. The current technical/practical/commercial balance is an interesting one, and it’s not going to be decided overnight.


Facebook has got itself into a bit of a pickle here, not least because of its relentless pursuit of advertising dollars at the expense of organic reach. If you think about it, Facebook is already acting as an ad-blocker itself, weeding out brand marketing and offering a platform only to those who pay to play. This is not dissimilar to the ‘white list’ employed by Adblock Plus, for which the ad-blocker itself has come in for extensive criticism.

The upshot: Facebook is not anti ad-blockers only anti other ad-blockers – it has no problem itself in acting as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to brand reach, and of course offering favour to those who pay the toll. It’s an interesting time for Facebook, and for the industry at large, which could see a genuine shift in social back towards more conversational branded marketing and away from the archaic on-page ad approach of old.

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