Unilever threatens to pull ads from tech giants unless they 'reform' content

Unilever, one of the largest consumer products companies in the world, is threatening to pull its advertisements from Facebook, Google, and YouTube unless they get rid of platforms that promote "extremism," "hate speech," and "fake news."

The company has been especially worried about its ads showing up in videos that sexualize and exploit children.

Gizmodo:

"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," Weed is expected to say, according to a copy of his speech that was released to news outlets like The Guardian and Wall Street Journal.

Whether the company actually does pull any ads remains to be seen, but threats from Unilever won't be taken lightly.  The company is the world's second largest advertiser, right behind Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes the other half of virtually everything Americans consume – with its brands like Crest, Herbal Essences, Dawn, Charmin, and Mr. Clean, just to name a few.

Unilever spent $9 billion globally on advertising last year.  And with more of those dollars moving to the digital space, Big Tech depends on those billions if it wants to keep growing.

"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 is expected to say.

"And 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."

As with any effort by the tech giants to "police" their sites, the criteria used to determine hate speech, fake news, and extremism will be extremely subjective.  Judging by this Gizmodo piece, the future does not look promising:

But it's not just Logan Paul who's causing headaches for these platforms.  Advertisers are increasingly concerned about being associated with internet mediums that thrive on trickery.  In some cases, kids are being tricked into watching disturbing, surrealist videos that are marketed as child-friendly.  And in other cases, platforms like Google and Facebook are key drivers in spreading fake news.

YouTube has tried to address its political problems by posting a notice to American users when they're watching state-sponsored "propaganda" like the Kremlin-funded RT.  But so far it hasn't instituted similar warnings for propaganda outlets like Alex Jones'[s] Infowars and the White House's favorite cheerleaders, Fox News, which spread dangerous conspiracy theories and racist hate.

See what I mean?

Unilever is well within its rights to demand that its ads do not appear on objectionable sites.  But in this case, who polices the policemen?  Who is to decide if the tech giants remove sites that may be politically objectionable but clearly protected under the First Amendment?

I suspect that Unilever would be in bigger trouble if Big Tech began to remove conservative websites based on political content.  What we've seen from them so far gives me zero confidence that they can be trusted with this kind of enormous power.  There are clearly sites that should be blocked, including extremist jihadi sites, racist pages, and the sexualization of children.  But you and I both know that it won't stop there, and unless Unilever makes it clear that it won't tolerate political censorship any more than hate sites, tech giants will take advantage.

Unilever, one of the largest consumer products companies in the world, is threatening to pull its advertisements from Facebook, Google, and YouTube unless they get rid of platforms that promote "extremism," "hate speech," and "fake news."

The company has been especially worried about its ads showing up in videos that sexualize and exploit children.

Gizmodo:

"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," Weed is expected to say, according to a copy of his speech that was released to news outlets like The Guardian and Wall Street Journal.

Whether the company actually does pull any ads remains to be seen, but threats from Unilever won't be taken lightly.  The company is the world's second largest advertiser, right behind Proctor & Gamble, the company that makes the other half of virtually everything Americans consume – with its brands like Crest, Herbal Essences, Dawn, Charmin, and Mr. Clean, just to name a few.

Unilever spent $9 billion globally on advertising last year.  And with more of those dollars moving to the digital space, Big Tech depends on those billions if it wants to keep growing.

"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 is expected to say.

"And 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."

As with any effort by the tech giants to "police" their sites, the criteria used to determine hate speech, fake news, and extremism will be extremely subjective.  Judging by this Gizmodo piece, the future does not look promising:

But it's not just Logan Paul who's causing headaches for these platforms.  Advertisers are increasingly concerned about being associated with internet mediums that thrive on trickery.  In some cases, kids are being tricked into watching disturbing, surrealist videos that are marketed as child-friendly.  And in other cases, platforms like Google and Facebook are key drivers in spreading fake news.

YouTube has tried to address its political problems by posting a notice to American users when they're watching state-sponsored "propaganda" like the Kremlin-funded RT.  But so far it hasn't instituted similar warnings for propaganda outlets like Alex Jones'[s] Infowars and the White House's favorite cheerleaders, Fox News, which spread dangerous conspiracy theories and racist hate.

See what I mean?

Unilever is well within its rights to demand that its ads do not appear on objectionable sites.  But in this case, who polices the policemen?  Who is to decide if the tech giants remove sites that may be politically objectionable but clearly protected under the First Amendment?

I suspect that Unilever would be in bigger trouble if Big Tech began to remove conservative websites based on political content.  What we've seen from them so far gives me zero confidence that they can be trusted with this kind of enormous power.  There are clearly sites that should be blocked, including extremist jihadi sites, racist pages, and the sexualization of children.  But you and I both know that it won't stop there, and unless Unilever makes it clear that it won't tolerate political censorship any more than hate sites, tech giants will take advantage.