business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

If you’re reading this story, you’re online. Which means you are in a sometimes toxic environment - not MNB specifically, but the broader internet.

The Wall Street Journal has a story about how Unilever “is threatening to pull back its advertising from popular tech platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, if they don’t do more to combat the spread of fake news, hate speech and divisive content.

Indeed, the company’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, says that “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 … We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

The story notes that “in the wake of the 2016 election, YouTube, Facebook and other tech companies have come under scrutiny for allowing the spread of misinformation - criticism partly fueled by evidence that Russian actors used their platforms to disseminate information designed to manipulate U.S. voters.” Google-owned YouTube specifically “has taken plenty of heat for running ads alongside extremist, racist and hateful videos, forcing brands to suspend advertising on the site. Most recently, brands were discovered to be appearing next to videos that seemed to attract pedophile viewers.”

Weed’s comments came at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, California.

This is going to be an ongoing and serious debate - the role that internet platforms should play in the filtering of in formation and opinion.

I think we have to be careful about how much power we give these platforms. Here on MNB, I have total control over the emails that run. I can direct the conversation where I want it to go, I can clean up the language, I can make choices about the topics that get further attention, and I can run only the emails that I think engage in civil discourse.

But MNB readers know that this is what they sign up for. I think appropriate heat is good, but light is better. Obviously, if you are facebook or YouTube, the job is much bigger, the challenges more daunting, and the responsibilities more crushing.

One thing that will prompt companies to behave responsibly will be as companies take a nuanced approach to where they advertise. It is a complicated process, and will require constant and consistent recalibration.

But it is an Eye-Opening moment in time. We all have to step up.
KC's View: