If you've seen sex ads on Twitter, you aren't the only one

Twitter has been known to serve up some dubious ads in the form of “promoted” Tweets. Take this example of a knock-off Pokemon app spotted by my colleague Kif Leswing. This, for reference, does not come from Nintendo:

Twitter says that promoted tweets appear in people’s timelines if the tweet is “likely to be interesting and relevant to that user.” By that measure, I must feel really guilty about sex, since a few days ago I was shown this tweet:

“Say goodbye to sex guilt forever!” the ad promises, next to a copulating couple and a nice mid-afternoon f-bomb. Why is this in my timeline?

Some people were not amused:

Although some people took it in stride:

The tweet was paid for by Collectively, a media company whose stated mission is to uncover and celebrate “the people and ideas creating a world we want to live in.”

But it shouldn’t have ever gone up. The ad is in violation of Twitter’s terms for these kinds of tweets, which prohibit “adult or sexual products and services globally.”

Here are the exceptions, though this ad doesn’t fall into any of them:

  • Safer sex education, HIV/STD awareness campaigns, and non-prescription contraceptives provided the ads:
  • Modelled clothing (such as lingerie) that is not sexual in nature
  • Nude fine art
  • Content about breastfeeding
  • Medical drawings

Twitter does have a hybrid automatic-manual pre-screening process for these types of ads, but if it can’t catch a drawing of two people having sex and the word “f—,” how effective can it really be?

In a troubled 2015 for Twitter, advertising was a source of growth for the company. Twitter’s revenue grew 58%, though it performed toward the low end of analyst estimates in the first quarter of 2016.

COO Adam Bain seems to be de-emphasising promoted tweets, referring to them as a legacy product in the latest earnings call, and pointing to Twitter’s recent success with video ads. Twitter users tend to enjoy video ads more than promoted tweets, he said.

But how sexy are they?

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