Terror survives on the oxygen of attention

Nicklin, Finney, Katsur, Clarke and Jordan-Bambach (l-r)
Nicklin, Finney, Katsur, Clarke and Jordan-Bambach (l-r)

Terror survives on the oxygen of attention and it's not good enough for Facebook and Google to say they are separate from content they host, according to DigitasLBi international chief creative officer Chris Clarke.

The unintended consequence of how the internet has been set up is causing the rise of terrorism and the alt-right online, Clarke said in an panel at Advertising Week Europe this morning. "The oxygen for the alt-right is the oxygen for terror," he said.

The role of brands in funding terrorism through ads alongside extremist content online has been in the spotlight following an investigation in The Times. Major advertisers such as the UK government, HSBC and AT&T in the US have pulled spend from YouTube and Google’s display network following the scandal.

Clarke said: "It’s not good enough for Google and Facebook to say we’re separate from all of this. We’re neutral.

"It’s simply not good enough as an industry to accept it because… and I know it’s not just Google and Facebook and they’re great people and they’re great platforms and we work with them so this is not a deliberate missile aimed at them but ultimately it’s ad money that funds those platforms."

Clarke echoed Google EMEA president of business and operations Matt Brittin – who said the ad money behind ads on extremist videos amounted to "pennies not pounds" in a session on Monday – by questioning how much money jihadi or extreme right groups were generating in ad revenue.

He said: "I’m not sure advertising is funding terror on its own. I’m not sure how much money Isis has made out of the Mercedes ads that ran in front of their horrific jihadi videos." Instead, he attributed terrorism to the themes of the Adam Curtis documentary Bitter Lake, which examined the role of oil agreements in the politics of the Middle East.

However, Clarke emphasised the power advertisers have to change the wider ecosystem: "[Google and Facebook] only exist because of advertising money. Really none of this has existed for longer than ten years.

"We’re not talking about the laws of physics. These are not immutable unchangeable things. If we don’t like the way the world is going at the moment as a result of technology we can change it."

Laura Jordan-Bambach, chief creative officer at Mr President, also discussed the ability of advertisers to make a difference to the world they operate in. She recommended agencies talk to their clients about what they can do.

"Big things are going to start to happen. It doesn’t absolve us from getting off our arses and doing stuff," she said.

Last month Mr President’s client The Body Shop announced it would stop advertising in the Daily Mail, citing the paper’s editorial stance. Jordan-Bambach said Mr President had spoken to The Body Shop ahead of the decision and described it as a "great win".

She continued: "It’s a great feeling to be part of that conversation. We’re having that conversation with all of our clients."

Jordan-Bambach and Clarke were speaking as part of Guardian panel entitled "If advertising is funding terror, what should we do differently?" that largely focused on brand safety out of respect for the attack on Westminster yesterday.

The panel also included Anthony Katsur, president at Sonobi, Mark Finney, director of media and advertising at ISBA, and was chaired by Hamish Nicklin, chief revenue officer at Guardian News & Media.

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