The Private Sector is Spurring Tech Companies to Change Advertising Practices

Amidst the din of activists and politicians demanding technology companies “do something” about fake news and extremist content, a couple private sector companies are throwing their weight around to force changes. Unilever just announced that it will significantly curtail spending on advertisements on digital platforms unless Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snap and others launch initiatives designed to prevent the spread of harmful content to children.

Unilever, whose brands include Lipton Teas, Ben & Jerry’s, Dove soaps and Axe, expressed concerns that social media companies are losing the confidence of the American public. Based on statements from Unilever, one may infer that as trust in social media companies declines, consumers associate the lack of trust with the companies advertising on those platforms.

Companies like Unilever and P&G recognize their ability to spur change within the social media arena, P&G launched efforts similar to Unilever last year.  Technology companies will respond in more immediate fashion to the prospective loss of revenue than to the threat of government action.

In other words, the private sector is far more effective at driving change than federal or state governments. In this respect, Unilever and P&G should be applauded for working with the technology companies to remedy perceived shortcomings rather than running to the government demanding imposition of regulations.

Unilever and P&G are adapting to the 21st century, both in terms of advertising and building brand loyalty. Millennials and others are starting to associate brands with the platforms they advertise on and the messages those platforms are sharing. Thus, nearly as important as product quality, the content—such as YouTube videos or Facebook posts—the ads appear alongside are critical for a positive brand association.

Advertisers, for example, do not want to be associated with a YouTube star who posts insensitive videos seeking to maximize views by exploiting suicide or abusing animals. Similarly, advertisers do not want to be affiliated with platforms that fail to properly police terrorist-promoting content or other content that may act as a negative influence on children.

While the private sector is leading, some concerns may remain. Concerns about how “fake news” is defined, appear throughout the center-right movement. Many center-right organizations believe that left-leaning activists pressuring social media companies will define any news they disagree with as fake. Similarly, some organizations dedicated to countering extremist content through education may find their posts removed or demonetized.

Unilever and P&G are working behind the scenes with social media companies. By working behind the scenes, all interested parties are likely to reach agreements satisfying all involved. And they are likely to reach agreements without the involvement of the government.

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