Cleaning Up Social Media, A Time For Action


Based on the recent social media boycotts, the World Federation of Advertisers conducted a poll in which members were asked what their organisation’s position on advertising spend is, if the platforms do not adapt their policies on hate speech. While momentum is gaining on the list of brands pausing their social media activities, to include global advertisers such as Unilever, Volkswagen, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Patagonia and Diageo, whom we applaud, the survey shows that 41% are undecided on whether to withhold spend.

The reality is, like it or not, advertisers are the only ones who can drive real change in forcing social media owners to take accountability for controlling hate speech and misinformation distributed on their platforms. And, a pause is not a halt and has no conditions.

While advertisers, agencies, media owners, industry and regulatory bodies have been discussing the topic ad nauseam in recent years, with countless Congressional hearings having come and gone, little has been done by social media owners to clean house and drive real change.

The issues are not new, and have been lingering without resolve, and now require a firm stance by all advertisers, who drive social media owner revenue and growth. It also requires long term action vs short term tactics.

For those brands that are undecided here are a few thoughts to consider. . .

There is a narrative in our industry that technology, which includes social media, is neutral which is not the case. Social media platforms are specifically engineered to keep consumers coming back at increased levels, as this is how they make their money. Not through consumers, but through advertisers.

Put simply, the commercial mechanic is this. . . if social media owners can show advertisers that their user numbers and engagement rates are increasing on their platforms, the more likely advertisers will maintain, if not increase their investments, driving social media owner profits. As advertisers see their competitors increasing spend on the platforms, so in turn will they, further fuelling social media platform revenue and growth.

Unfortunately, the content that drives highest engagement rates is often inflammatory messaging, to include hate speech and misinformation, as well as sensationalised news and conspiracy theories, which shapes the thoughts and actions of society.

The issues are no longer around “brand safety” but “societal safety”. With social media owners just making “tweaks” to the system, the only way to drive real, sustainable change is by advertisers taking action, pausing activities and investment.

As there is understandable concern as to how this may affect a brand’s business and bottom line, we would encourage advertisers to work closely with their agency partners to determine the alternative channels to pursue. It also serves as a valuable “test & learn” case to see how brands perform without the reliance on social media.

It is clear also that the leading agencies cannot be “neutral” on this important topic. We’d ask all networks to give a clear point of view. Advertisers can make decisions based on the behaviours of their agencies. Many advertisers feel that agencies have had an ambiguous relationship with some of the social and search giants, is this a time to be clear and firm?

By pausing activities and investments, we hope social media owners will acknowledge their role and responsibility, take action and drive change, to protect society from hate speech and all other forms defamatory content. Without this, the issues of race, inequality and injustice will simply remain and continue to be fuelled by social media platforms. Action is long overdue and it’s time for change.