PALO ALTO, California: Fast growing social networking website Facebook has been caught on the hop by certain big name British advertisers who have boycotted its pages to avoid appearing next to contentious listings.

Surprised chief operating officer Owen Van Natta (pictured) said: "We weren't entirely prepared for it or we would have taken action to try to resolve it before it ever even got to the press."

The website has been deserted by Vodafone, Virgin Media and the government's Central Office of Information, among others, after they became alarmed their ads had shown up on a profile page belonging to the rightist anti-immigration British National Party.

In a hurried response, Facebook has now tweaked its system to give the advertisers greater control over placement of their marketing messages. The blocking feature is expected to be extended internationally.

Van Natta added: "I expect that most, if not all, of those advertisers are going to be coming back on board if they haven't already."

He did emphasise, however, there would be no changes in Facebook's editorial policy. Users are free to post what they want provided the content does not violate the site's own terms.

Facebook expects to earn well over $100 million in 2007 (€72.7m; £49m), mostly from advertising. The market is potentially huge as the site currently boasts 34m members, up from 24m two months ago.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff