Tech

Unilever threatens to pull advertising from social networks

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Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, may stop buying advertising on social networks like Facebook or Google if these tech companies don’t stop helping to spread hate speech and create divisions in society, according to a senior company executive.

Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company, also is expected to tell a conference in California later Monday that people’s faith in social media companies has fallen dramatically, and that the current online environment where hate speech and harmful content can spread like wildfire threatens to undermine people’s relationship with consumer brands.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” Weed is expected to tell the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, an industry gathering. “We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

The comments from one of the world’s largest online media buyers come as social networks face a barrage of criticism from lawmakers, brands and people worldwide over their role in how online misinformation, hate speech and other illegal material is shared across their platforms.

In response, Google, Twitter and Facebook have all taken steps to eliminate fake accounts and clamped down on harmful material that is shared on their networks. The companies also have invested in artificial intelligence to automatically remove illicit content and hired content moderators to manually check for illegal material.

So far, though, such activities have won them few plaudits, including from companies like Unilever — whose brands include Dove soap and Lipton tea — that collectively spend billions of euros each year to advertise on these digital networks.

“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,” Weed, the Unilever executive, will tell the industry conference.

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