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Unilever threatens to pull online advertising from ‘toxic’ platforms

Unilever threatens to pull online advertising from ‘toxic’ platforms


‘It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this.’

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Consumer goods company Unilever is threatening to pull all advertising from online platforms that allow “toxic” online content, as reported by Reuters. According to a speech that is expected to be made today by Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed, the move will encompass platforms that “do not make a positive contribution to society.”

Though Weed does not call out specific companies, his terminologies make it clear Unilever is referring to platforms like Facebook and Google, two companies that have been fraught with controversy over ad practices. Last month, Google said it is putting its global rehab advertising efforts on hold after deceptive ad practices were brought to light. Facebook has been deluged with issues around ad practices, including potentially breaking Seattle’s ad transparency law, allowing Russian political ad spending during the US presidential election, and overestimating the average viewing time for its video ads.

Unilever is one of the world’s biggest online advertisers, and for it to pull spending from any platform would be a significant revenue blow. Last year, Unilever spent $9.4 billion on marketing, about a third of which was on digital advertising. “It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one,” Weed plans to say in his speech. “Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children ... 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.”

It’s not just advertisers that are putting pressure on outlets to banish disinformation and harmful content. Recently, Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha de S Paulo, announced it will no longer publish content on Facebook, according to The Guardian. “Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours,” said Folha’s executive editor, Sérgio Dávila.

Although platforms have been trying to better police content, many, including Unilever, complain change is happening too slow and consumer trust has been lost. “2018 is 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,” Weed’s speech reads. “The year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society.”