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Unilever threatens to pull ads from ‘toxic’ online platforms


Unilever, one of the world’s biggest consumer goods company, has threatened to pull its ads from digital platforms such as Facebook and Google if the tech companies don’t do more to minimize divisive content on their platforms.

Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, pushed the web giants on Monday to better police what he described as a toxic online environment where propaganda, hate speech and disturbing content that exploits children thrive.

“Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children — parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us,” Weed said in a speech at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert. “It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this.”

Last year, Unilever spent nearly $9.4 billion marketing its brands, which include Dove soap, Axe body spray, Wall’s ice cream among many others. Digital advertising accounts for about one-third of its spend, the company said in September.

Weed’s speech did not accuse any specific platform but he said trust in social media is at a new low due to a perceived lack of focus by tech firms in keeping illegal, unethical and extremist material off their websites. He added that Unilever was committed to tackling gender stereotypes in advertising and will only partner with organizations committed to creating better digital infrastructure.

Weed said the company has already begun discussions with Facebook Inc., Google, Twitter Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Snapchat maker Snap Inc.

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Google and Facebook are trying to change

Last year, video-sharing site YouTube faced two advertiser boycotts after newspaper reports found ads of major brands appearing next to extremist videos. Google has since adopted changes to the YouTube platform, which draws 1.6 billion monthly users. Those changes include stricter criteria for what types of videos can receive ad revenue and more human reviews of content.

In January, Facebook announced that it would prioritise content that has been shared by friends and family while de-emphasizing content from publishers and businesses. According to the social media giant, the move was designed to encourage people to interact more with the things that they actually do see. During its most recent earnings call, Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook users spent 50 million fewer hours per day on the social network than they did the previous quarter, this was in part due to the above-mentioned changes to the news feed.
But companies like 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, the year where we collectively rebuild trust back in our systems and our society.” Wed’s said.

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