WFA: Brands have 'moral' duty to call out tech giants over dangerous content

Christchurch attach: live-streamed on Facebook
Christchurch attach: live-streamed on Facebook

Marketers' body stops short of joining calls to pull adspend from Google and Facebook.

The World Federation of Advertisers has called on all brands globally to hold Facebook and Google to account over handling dangerous and hateful content in an appeal to their "moral responsibility".

The organisation, which represents the world’s biggest brands, is today calling on marketers and brand owners to put pressure on tech platforms to do more to prevent their services and algorithms from being hijacked by those with malicious intent.

The announcement, made at the opening of today’s WFA Global Marketer Conference in Lisbon, follows multiple incidents involving social media platforms, including the live-streaming of the New Zealand terrorist attack on Facebook.

WFA chief executive Stephan Loerke told Campaign that big social media platforms have been "tone-deaf" to the concerns of advertisers, many of whom recently pulled spend from YouTube after child abuse comments were made on otherwise innocent videos.

Loerke said Facebook had been particularly difficult to engage with and the WFA has been unsatisfied with the level of assurances received from the company. 

"Today’s statement expresses a point of view in our membership that these platforms need to acknowledge," Loerke said. "There is a broader moral responsibility here; it’s not just about brand safety and it’s in our common interest to take this up." 

WFA is standing by its member association and colleagues at the Association of New Zealand Advertisers, which has issued a call asking for members to think carefully about where they place advertising and to challenge platform owners to do more. 

Loerke: 'We want to create momentum that will help us have more responsible platforms'

When asked by Campaign what marketers should specifically be doing that they are not already when challenging Facebook and Google, Loerke made clear that the WFA is not advocating pulling spend or issuing ultimatums.

In November last year, a committee of senior UK MPs said brands should pull ads from tech platforms in order to pressure them into taking action over removing extremist and terror-related content. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee said brands should follow the example of FCMG giant Unilever's attempts to clean up its digital marketing.

However, Loerke said: "We want brand owners to be aware of that wider discussion and to realise those incidents are important to our ability longer term to foster a sustainable partnership… We want to create momentum that will help us have more responsible platforms."

Improving the online ecosystem is a top priority for WFA members, according to a recent poll of 200 senior marketers. Nearly half (47%) cited improving the online advertising ecosystem as the single biggest issue the marketing industry needed to address in 2019. 

Michael Todd, Google's head of advertising industry relations in EMEA, said: "We understand the concerns of the WFA and we continue to work to address inappropriate content on our platforms. We’ve made significant progress in this area and we’ll continue to be open about how our products work and the work we are doing to keep our platforms safer, in addition to working with government, industry partners and society to achieve this".

Facebook has also been contacted for comment.

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