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Teen Vogue faces backlash over article about Facebook's election efforts

The article was labeled "sponsored content" before disappearing altogether.

3 min read

The now deleted article focused on steps the social network is taking to prevent being used to influence the election.

James Martin/CNET

A Teen Vogue story that featured interviews with Facebook executives involved in the social network's efforts to protect the integrity of the 2020 election has disappeared from the popular site after critics worried it was an advertorial. 

Teen Vogue appears to have deleted the story, in which five senior Facebook employees described steps the social network was taking to prevent Facebook from being used to influence the election. Clicking on the Teen Vogue link takes you to a page that reads, "Unfortunately this page does not exist. Please check your URL or return to the Homepage."

An archived version of the story is available on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

The article immediately prompted critics on Twitter to question whether the story, which didn't include an author byline, was paid for by Facebook, a practice known as an advertorial or sponsored content. Business Insider, which earlier reported on the Teen Vogue article, said the story was amended at one point to include an editor's note labeling the piece as sponsored content, before it was removed entirely.

Many publishers, including CNET, publish content written for sponsors. At CNET, sponsored content is always identified as sponsored content created by the Studio 61 team on behalf of a client.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but told Business Insider that the story was purely editorial. "We pitched this to Teen Vogue and worked with their team on the piece over the past few months," Facebook spokesperson Lisa Stratton told Business Insider. 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also shared the article in a Facebook post Wednesday, calling it a "great" piece about "five incredible women protecting elections" for the social media platform.

Condé Nast, the parent company of Teen Vogue, said the article was taken down to avoid further confusion, but the company didn't directly address whether it was sponsored content. 

"We made a series of errors labeling this piece, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused," a Condé Nast spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday. "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."

Twitter critics laid into Teen Vogue for the article, which makes only passing reference to the election-focused foreign interference that played out on Facebook during the 2016 campaign. The social network was exploited by Russian trolls to sow social division during the election. Shortly after the campaign, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the company was slow in spotting the trolls and "stumbled along the way." 

"It's still available via google amp and woah. Anyone who has written for #teenvogue should demand accountability for an unsigned corporate PR bootlicking & excuses disguised as gurl power - complete with photoshoot - that clearly involved extensive coordination," tweeted a Twitter user with the handle Mister Fengi.

The removal of the sponsored content label befuddled many commenters, who asked what Teen Vogue was doing. The Teen Vogue Twitter account responded with "literally idk." CNET couldn't find the tweet in Teen Vogue's feed, but Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Broderick captured a screen-grab of it.

Originally published Jan. 8, 12:58 p.m. PT.
Update, 2:23 p.m.: Adds comment from Condé Nast.