How The Company Behind Dove Soap Could Make Facebook And YouTube Scrub Out Hate Speech

“This is not something that can be brushed aside or ignored.”

In 2017, Unilever spent $2.4 billion on digital advertising for its brands — which include Dove soap, Axe body spray, and Lipton tea, to name a few. In 2018, though, the corporation is contemplating a big change: it's threatening to pull its ads from such sites as Facebook and YouTube if they don't become safer, more inclusive, and more responsible.

Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed delivered the warning in a speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., on February 12. "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," Weed said, according to Reuters. "It is in the digital media industry's interest to listen and act on this before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing."

Facebook and YouTube have both come under fire in recent years over their user-submitted content that can sometimes go unchecked. Fake news has been a thorn in Facebook's side, for example, and YouTube has been beset by extremist and objectionable videos.

Lately, Facebook has started prioritizing posts from friends and family over posts from organizations and brands, and YouTube has been changing its standards for ad revenue and enlisting humans to moderate the site's content. Still, Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) together account for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. market share for digital ads, per the Los Angeles Times, and they may need to expand these clean-up efforts even further to appease advertisers.

"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 well-being, on democracy — and on truth itself," Weed continued. "This is not something that can be brushed aside or ignored. Consumers are also demanding platforms which make a positive contribution to society."

Google has yet to issue a response to Weed's comments, but Facebook said it "fully supports Unilever's commitments" and is "working closely with them." 

Paul Frampton, a former head of a marketing services group, told The Guardian Unilever's boycott threat might be just as galvanizing as the #MeToo movement. "Like #MeToo it feels like this is a movement that has stepped up a gear and Weed speaking out will mean other marketers will follow," he said.

Indeed, this will likely be a pivotal moment for internet culture. Weed said 2018 will be "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."

Cover image: monticello / Shutterstock.com

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