Consumer-goods giant Unilever threatens to withdraw from Facebook and Twitter

Unilever, the world’s second largest advertiser, has threatened to stop advertising on websites like Facebook and Twitter, unless they do more to tackle fake news and content that creates division.

“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,” the company’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed is expected to tell the industry later today at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual conference in California.

Unilever, which owns brands including Marmite, PG Tips, Pot Noodle, Dove and Persil, generates revenues upwards of $40bn. In its most recent accounts report, it recorded a marketing spend of €7.7 billion (£6.83 billion).

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online, Weed will say in his speech.

“We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

The threat comes after Mark Zuckerberg made a new year’s resolution to fix Facebook’s problems.

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“The world feels anxious and divided,” he said in a post on the social network, “and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”

Facebook’s head of Civic Engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti, later admitted the site was “far too slow to recognise how bad actors were abusing [the] platform”, explaining that at its worst it has the potential to “spread misinformation and corrode democracy”.

Weed is expected to explain in his speech that Unliever is not prepared “prop up” a digital supply chain that “at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.” Last year, Proctor & Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, made similar threats at the IAB’s annual leadership meeting in an effort to help clean up the digital media industry. Global marketing and brand building officer, Marc Pritchard, described the media supply chain as “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” and announced that the company would spend its budget elsewhere if agencies did not comply with its vision of greater transparency.

It’s a fascinating situation. Facebook has already acknowledged its flaws – and indeed introduced some measures to tackle them, but clearly, it still needs to do more if it wants to protect its main source of revenue. The world’s biggest companies quite rightly don’t want to advertise on sites which are synonymous with fake news, hateful content and echo chambers, and so Unilever’s threats could prompt Zuckerberg to pull his finger out and really improve the social network for everyone.

Main image credit: No Question, Stewart Black, used under Creative Commons

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