Ad Industry Unites With Social Media Giants To Safeguard ‘Digital Safety’

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Google, Facebook and Twitter work with major consumer brands and ad buying agencies on coordinated self-policing amidst calls for stricter regulation

The advertising industry’s biggest players have joined forces with tech giants and major brands in what they called the first coordinated effort to combat dangerous content online.

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media includes sixteen of the world’s biggest advertisers, including Unilever and Procter & Gamble, as well as media buying agencies from the major ad groups, WPP, IPG, Publicis, Omnicom and Dentsu, and platform owners including Google, Twitter and Facebook.

The group aims to “rapidly improve digital safety” as platforms come under pressure from regulators over the spread of content including misinformation and extremist material.

The platforms have been accused of failing to stem the spread of illegal content and that which is aimed at disrupting elections or fuels extremism, with countries including the UK proposing stricter regulations as a solution.

Online safety

The new self-regulatory body was announced on the second day of the annual Cannes Lions gathering of the advertising industry.

“When industry challenges spill into society, creating division and putting our children at risk, it’s on all of us to act,” Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever, told Reuters.

“Founding this alliance is a great step toward rebuilding trust in our industry and society.”

Di Como said the group would initially focus on content posing an immediate risk to society, such as militant extremism.

The alliance aims to develop a “concrete set” of processes and protocols to protect people and brands online.

In the UK, MPs have called for social media executives to be held personally responsible for the spread of harmful content, and for the formation of a new regulator that would be financed by a levy on tech companies.

Others have called for large online groups to be forcibly broken up.

‘Next step forward’

Facebook said the company was “resolute” in its commitment to provide a safe community and that the alliance was its “next step forward”.

John Montgomery, global vice-president of brand safety at WPP-owned GroupM, told the Financial Times that one of the alliance’s aims was to institute third-party vetting of online platforms for harmful content.

Doing so would provide better “transparency” so that groups could better determine where to place their advertising.

The group’s first meeting is to be held on Wednesday.

Damian Collins, chair of Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said the group’s scope was limited by its focus on advertising.

“(The) damage posed by harmful material that’s posted online (is) clearly something that advertisers are waking up to as a threat to their products and how they promote them online,” he said.

“But digital safety has got to be about protecting all users as individuals, not just as brand consumers.”

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