India waits & watches as brands withdraw from social media advertising in US

Industry players say larger brands will no longer tolerate discriminatory content and social media networks will have to roll out new measures to contain the spread of hate on these platforms

e4m by Dipali Banka
Updated: Jun 29, 2020 10:21 AM
Social media

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday announced tweaks to a number of policies around hate speech and voter suppression but the measures have not helped halt the snowball of companies taking a stand to stop advertising from the platform in the US amongst the backlash over the company’s alleged failure to contain the rampant spread of false information and incendiary content on the platform.

Reportedly more than 100 brands in the US, including majors like Unilever, Verizon, CocaCola, Honda and the chocolate brand Hershey, have committed to contain advertisements on Facebook. Most of these advertisers have decided to hit a pause button on ad spending on Facebook and Instagram for the month of July. While a few like Unilever have announced stopping advertisements on all social media platforms for the next six months, Coca-Cola reportedly announced it will be pausing paid advertising on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days. Meanwhile, P&G is reviewing all media channels, networks, platforms and programmes it advertises on. Facebook reportedly makes about 98 per cent of its $70 billion in annual revenue from advertising. The social media network’s stock price tumbled 8.3 per cent on Friday on Nasdaq closing at 216.08.

While responding if the announcements will impact the India market as well, a Hindustan Unilever spokesperson said the announcement is specific to the US market at present and there are no specific announcements for other markets or the Indian market at the moment. Even a Coca Cola spokesperson confirmed that although the announcement is to stop advertising on all social media platforms globally, there is not specific communication for India as of now.

According to industry sources, advertisers in India have still not reacted as strongly as advertisers in the US. However, companies take the call almost on a daily basis. One needs to see how the situation unfolds in India.

In a statement shared with exchange4media, Verizon Media said: “Our brand safety standards have not changed. We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance. In case of a breach, we take action. We're pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we've done with YouTube and other partners."

The #StopHateForProfit campaign, which was launched in the wake of Facebook's decision not to take action on certain posts, gained traction earlier in June amidst pressure from civil rights organizations in the US.

As big advertisers started pulling out of the network, Zuckerberg announced on Friday that Facebook will start to label potentially harmful posts that it leaves up because of their news value. The platform said it will attached a label “problematic” for content that falls outside of the specified categories. It also announced that the firm would ban ads that describe different groups, based on race or immigration status, as a threat. It has decided to also remove content - even from a politician - if it determines that it incites violence or suppresses voting.

In response to exchange4media's queries, Facebook said: "We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies. We’ve opened ourselves up to a civil rights audit, and we have banned 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook and Instagram. The investments we have made in AI mean that we find nearly 90% of Hate Speech, we action before users report it to us. We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups, Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight." 

Twitter has already taken some similar steps of banning advertisements from politicians and adding labels and warnings to some kinds of content. “Our mission is to serve the public conversation and ensure Twitter is a place where people can make human connections, seek and receive authentic and credible information, and express themselves freely and safely,” said Sarah Personette, VP, Global Client Solutions, Twitter. “We have developed policies and platform capabilities designed to protect and serve the public conversation, and as always, are committed to amplifying voices from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups. We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time.”

According to Atul Hegde, Co-founder, Rainmaker Ventures, “I think it’s a pretty clear stand by the larger brands that they will not tolerate racism. And social media platforms can no longer hide behind the ‘freedom of speech’ defence. The message is loud and clear, take a stand, you either support racism or you don’t. As a platform you have the means to control this. On Friday, Mark Zuckerberg in his weekly townhall meeting announced four clear steps towards better content moderation. I think this will be in a series of many new measures that will roll out now to contain the spread of hate on these platforms. It’s high time this happened.”

Not just in the US, overall too, the trending hashtags and topics on social media are generally venomous in nature. How do brands engage with their customers in such an atmosphere?

“The problem especially on platforms like Twitter is that we notice the trends immediately. Fact is about 10% users generate almost 90% of all content and we think this is the voice of the people at large. Hence the narrative is easily manipulated. For brands this is like navigating a minefield and it also reflects on their spends on various social media platforms,” says Hegde. “More vile the environment, less the spends. Beyond a point most brands will start disengaging or asking for a ‘hostility filter like how we have ‘adult content’ filters for most campaigns now,” he added.

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