Advertisers strike deal with Facebook and YouTube over harmful content

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Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have struck a deal with major advertisers over harmful content, offering long-sought concessions to mend relationships broken by the boycott of social media platforms in July.

Negotiated through the World Federation of Advertisers, the agreement for the first time establishes common definitions of content such as hate speech and aggression, establishes harmonized reporting standards across platforms, and empowers external auditors to oversee the system, which will be launched in the second half of 2021..

Advertisers like Unilever and Mars say the commitments, which also include developing new tools to give advertisers more control over where ads are placed, have given them the confidence to return to spending on platforms.

Jane Wakely, senior director of marketing at Mars, told the Financial Times the industry “does not declare victory” until the solutions are implemented, but acknowledged the deal was “a milestone. In rebuilding trust.

“As an advertiser you’re sitting there with all these incredibly complex reports from each platform, using different terms, different standards and they’re marking their own homework,” she said. “In our envisioned world, we will have a comparable dashboard. Each advertiser can understand the performance of a platform. “

After many years of raising concerns with Facebook, Google and Twitter, advertisers launched the Global Alliance for Responsible Media in 2019 to negotiate with the platforms. Discussions accelerated this summer after more than 1,000 brands slashed spending, mostly from Facebook and Instagram.

While representing only a modest financial blow, the boycott has taken a heavy toll on the industry’s reputation and significantly increased public scrutiny of its labor practices during a turbulent election year in the United States.

The political storm has raised regulatory stakes, with lawmakers in Washington and Brussels pushing for a more fundamental overhaul of the legal protections against liability that big tech platforms have been based on.

Marietje Schaake, former member of the Cyber ​​Policy Center at Stanford University, questioned whether self-regulation could one day solve the fundamental problems raised by harmful content on social media.

“This is another example of companies making rules where democratic governments have neglected to do so,” she said. “This type of agreement probably serves these businesses better than the public interest. So even though the advertisers are happy, I don’t necessarily think this is a step in the right direction for democracy.

Since talks between the two sides started last year, one of the most difficult issues has been defining unwanted content. The deal defines 11 categories of harmful material – ranging from pornography and profanity to illegal drug use – which should be removed from the platform once found.

Classified by risk, it also establishes ways to judge borderline material – touching on topics such as weapons and ammunition – that is allowed but would be problematic for some advertisers.

“Before that, each platform had a completely different understanding of the problem. And if we don’t have a common language, we can’t write a solution, ”said Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever.

Unilever will still suspend advertising on U.S. social media platforms throughout the election year. But Mr Di Como said the deal provided “the right conditions” for Unilever to resume spending if it was “properly applied”.

Finally, the platforms are committed to developing tools to give advertisers more control over what their ad has been placed against, like the system YouTube already has in place. Facebook and Twitter will provide a “development roadmap” by the end of the year.

Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for global marketing solutions, described the deal as a “rare collaboration” that had “brought the industry up to the floor of brand safety. . . give us all a unified language to move forward in the fight against online hate ”.

Much relies on the collaborative implementation of the system, which Ms. Wakely compared to industry-wide food nutrition labeling. If the platforms didn’t stick to the deal, she said Mars and other advertisers would consider asking lawmakers to step in.

“We believe collaboration is the way to go,” she said. “But if we don’t make progress, we will not hesitate to work for fair regulation in this area as well.”

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