The world’s largest consumer goods companies Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever, also leading global advertisers, are now speaking of getting off online platforms that have toxic content. By toxic, the reference here is material that whips up hatred, or is discriminatory in nature or has explicit sexual and pornographic content. Some of these platforms include popular names such as Google, Facebook and Youtube, which have been in the eye of a storm over terror content. Regulators in the US and Europe have urged these platforms to take down such material. Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed announced his company’s intent to cut online ads on platforms that propagated inappropriate content. P&G has taken the lead in this regard, slashing its ad and marketing budget and improving savings by $750 million. The firm said this effort would be galvanised over the next few months as part of its larger agenda of bringing in greater transparency in media relationships. “It is becoming clearer to us that there is more opportunity in eliminating waste, reducing non-viewable ads, as well as stopping ads adjacent to inappropriate content,” P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said. “Looking ahead, we see a further cost reduction opportunity through more private market placed deals with media companies and precision media buying fuelled by data and digital technology," he said. P&G and Unilever join a host of other advertisers that are planning to go off platforms that propagate inappropriate content. These include AT&T, Verizon and Walmart. “While the intent is noble, monitoring the long tail of publishers and content providers on Google, Facebook and YouTube is difficult," said the head of a top digital agency in the country. “Google, for instance, manages display ads for these publishers and content providers through its AdSense network on a revenue-sharing basis and limiting content therefore is not a feasible exercise for it,” he said.
The picture is no different for Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, where the principal driver for advertising is more content.Global media agency Dentsu Aegis Network argued that online platforms could have more checks and balances in place to weed out offensive material. “Technology will have to be put in place by these platforms to remove inappropriate content. And, while some of them are doing it, this effort will have to increase over time,” said Ashish Bhasin, chairman and chief executive officer, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network. This point is endorsed by Shantanu Sirohi, chief operating officer of digital agency Interactive Avenues, which is a part of IPG Mediabrands. “Most platforms today are using artificial intelligence to help them in their effort to weed out offensive content. The strike rate has improved dramatically,” he said. Facebook, for instance, recently said that it was able to remove around 99 per cent of Islamic State and Al Qaeda terrorist content before it was flagged by users. This was due to advances in artificial intelligence that were helping it stop the spread of terrorist material. Google and other online platforms are also working on similar technology. Unilever has said that it is working with IBM to develop a blockchain to address transparency and trust issues among its advertising partners.