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Unilever warns social media to clean up “toxic” content

Unilever warns social media to clean up “toxic” content
From TechCrunch - February 12, 2018

Consumer goods giant Unilever, a maker of branded soaps, foodstuffs and personal care items and also one of the worlds biggest online advertisers, has fired a warning shot across the bows of social media giants by threatening to pull ads from digital platforms if they dont do more to mitigate the spread of what it dubs toxic online contentbe it fake news, terrorism or child exploitation.

It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one, CMOKeith Weed is expected to say at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California today, according to extracts from the speech provided to us ahead of delivery. Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society.

The remarks echo comments made last month by UK prime minister Theresa May who singled out social media firms for acute censure, saying they simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitatechild abuse,modern slaveryor the spreading ofterroristorextremist content.

Unilevers Weed is expected to argue that consumers are worried about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the U.S. election, and are sensitive to the brands they buy becoming tainted by associated with ad placement alongside awful stuff like terrorist propaganda and content that exploits children.

2018 is either the year of techlash, where the world turns on the tech giantsand we have seen some of this alreadyor the year of trust. The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society, he will argue.

Online ad giants Facebook and Google have increasingly found themselves on the hook for enabling the spread of socially divisive, offensive and at times out-and-out illegal content via their platformsin no small part as a consequence of the popularity of their content-sharing hubs.

While the Internet is filled with all sorts of awful stuff, in its darkest corners, the mainstream reach of platforms like Facebook and YouTube puts them squarely in the political firing line for all sorts of content issuesfrom political disinformation to socially divisive hate speech.

The fact Facebook and Google are also the chief financial beneficiaries of online ad spendingtogether accounting for around 60 per cent of online ad spending in the US, for examplemakes it difficult for them to dodge the charge that their businesses directly benefit from divisive and exploitative contentall the way from clickbait to fake news to full blown online extremism.

Facebooks 2016 dismissal of concerns about fake news impacting democracy as a pretty crazy idea has certainly not aged well. And CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since admitted his platform is broken and made it his personal goal for 2018 to fix Facebook.

Both companies faced a growing backlash last yearwith a number of advertisers and brands pulling ads from YouTubeover concerns about the types of content that their marketing messages were being served alongside, thanks to the programmatic (i.e. automatic) nature of the ad placement. The platform also took renewed flak for the type of content it routinely serves up to kids.

While Facebook got a political grilling over hosting Kremlin disinformationthough Russias online dis-ops clearly sprawl across multiple tech platforms. But again, Facebooks massive reach gifts it a greater share of blameas the most effective channel (at least that we currently know of) for political disinformation muck spreading. (Last fall, for example, it was forced to admit that ~80,000 pieces of Russian-backed content may have been viewed by 126M Facebook users during the 2016 US election.)

Last year Google responded with alacrity to boycotts by its own advertisers, saying it would expand controls for brands to give them more say over where their ads appeared on YouTube, and bytaking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory contentincluding demonitizing more types of videos. Though it has continued to disappoint politicians demanding better moderation.

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