Unilever warns Facebook, Google to clean up online 'swamp ...


Facebook's head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, told the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee it had taken down "thousands" of fake accounts in the run-up to 2017 elections in the UK, France and Germany. (Feb. 8)
AP Unilever, which makes everything from Ben & Jerry's ice cream to Dove soap, has warned Facebook and Google that it could pull its digital ads if the social media networks do not do a better job of monitoring objectionable content and divisive fabricated news stories. The company's chief marketing officer Keith Weed is expected to describe online networks as "a swamp" mired with fabricated news, racist, sexist and extremist content, in a speech today at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, Calif. "As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands," Weed said in a statement in advance of the speech. "We can't do anything to damage that trust — including the choice of channels and platforms we use. So, 2018 is the year when social media must win trust back." The London-headquartered Unilever has considerable clout as the fourth-largest global advertiser — Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Nestle’ — and spent $8.6 billion in 2017, according to AdAge. Its brands include Axe, Lipton, Noxzema and Suave. Unilever's warning comes as Facebook, which recently announced a change to what appears in users' news feeds, is losing younger users. Facebook has also been criticized for allowing the spread of misinformation including an initiative from Russian operatives to influence the U.S. presidential election. Google and Twitter have also been criticized for allowing the spread of fabricated news stories. Google-owned YouTube recently said it will increase the number of people overseeing content after  several advertisers pulled their ads from the video-sharing site after their ads were shown on videos of young children that had attracted scores of comments from pedophiles. Still, Google and Facebook are expected to attract more than 65% of U.S. digital ad revenues in 2018, according to eMarketer, with Google capturing more than $40 billion and Facebook nearly $22 billion. Consumers will hold advertisers accountable, too, when they see brands' ads alongside objectionable or questionable content, Weeds says. "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 is expected to say in prepared remarks, a copy of which were provided to USA TODAY. U.K. news outlets The Telegraph and the Financial Times were among the first to report on Unilever's plans. "It is in the digital media industry's interest to listen and act on this," Weed's remarks say. "Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing." Weed says he has met recently with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and Amazon "and I repeated one point to each and every one of them. It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one," he said. "Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society." The company will not pay to advertise on "platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate," Weed says. "We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society." Advertisers must work with social media to develop a "responsible" platform, he says.  "We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain — one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers — which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency," he says. Unilever is working with IBM on a new blockchain technology pilot program to record digital advertising and reduce ad fraud, Weed is expected to announce. Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider. Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2o0C41G