Unilever has threatened to pull advertising from platforms like Google and Facebook if they don’t do more to tackle extremist and illegal content.
It said consumer trust in social media is at an all time low and called on the industry to “collectively build trust back into our systems and society” in an era of “fake news and toxic online content”, warning it may cut investment in “platforms which breed division”.
Speaking at a leadership meeting in Palm Springs, Florida, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, called on technology giants to make a veritable stand against “things they see are not right” and stop “illegal, unethical and extremist behaviour and material on their platforms”.
Unilever vowed to: 1) Not invest in platforms that do not protect children or which create division in society. 2) Commit to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype and championing this across the industry through #SeeHer and the #Unstereotype Alliance. 3) To only partner with organisations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.
Speaking ahead of his speech, Weed said: “As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands. We can’t do anything to damage that trust – including the choice of channels and platforms we use. So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back.”
He continued: “2018 is either the year of techlash, where the world turns on the tech giants – and we have seen some of this already – or the year of trust. The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society.
“Across the world, dramatic shifts are taking place in people’s trust, particularly in media. We are seeing a critical separation of how people trust social media and more ‘traditional’ media. In the US only less than a third of people now trust social media (30%), whilst almost two thirds trust traditional media (58%).”
Weed added: “Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.
“It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this.”
Weed said it was up to all stakeholders to be part of the “solution”, saying Unilever was not “interested in issuing ultimatums or turning my face while I demand others sort this out”.
Unilever has met with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and Snapchat and Weed said he had repeated “one point to each and every one of them”, that it was “critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one”.
“It is acutely clear from the groundswell of consumer voices over recent months that people are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of digital on wellbeing, on democracy – and on truth itself. This is not something that can brushed aside or ignored,” he said.
Experts in digital media say that more buyers of advertising will have to join Unilever to spur change.
“The advertising ecosystem contains so many players, so for Facebook and Google to see any dent in the profits they make, there will need to be many companies that not only put their hat in the ring, but also follow through on these threats,” Sam Barker, a senior analyst at Juniper Research told the BBC.
Unilever’s warning came as the Government unveiled a new technology that aims to automatically detect terrorist content before it hits the web.
Tests show the tool can identify 94% of IS propaganda videos and has an extremely high accuracy rate.