Maximising brand safety in a world of hate speEch and fake news

Inez Zimakowski
Inez Zimakowski
July 7 . 3min read

Over the last two weeks, a growing number of advertisers have pulled their Facebook and Instagram ad spend for the month of July, as a form of protest against the platform’s perceived failure to control fake news and hate speech on the platform. Advertisers including US giants Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Microsoft have all announced their media spend boycott, with many more brands following suit around the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made the company’s stance clear, stating: “We’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue”, and following up with “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.” Ouch.

Will the boycott have an impact on Facebook’s revenue? The data suggests not, as even if the top 100 advertisers joined in, it would only account for 6% of the company’s annual ad revenue. Beyond this, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made the company’s stance clear, stating: “We’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue”, and following up with “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.” Ouch.

From a moral/CSR perspective, is it the right move? Perhaps. We recommend first reviewing your brand’s CSR policies and also considering the following:

No one is innocent here. All the major social platforms have similar problems, with Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and relative newcomer TikTok all facing issues adequately controlling hate speech and fake news on their platforms.

Pulling all social spend may have an impact on your brand’s bottom line. If social channels are key drivers of ecommerce sales, in store visitation, brand recall, etc, pulling your social spend for a month or two is likely to have serious effects on revenue, and you’ll need to be prepared to offset that using other channels.

If you’re looking to maximise brand safety without switching off social entirely, there are some risk-mitigating solutions for each of the big players.

Facebook & LinkedIn: Remove In-Stream (for video ads), In-Article, Instagram explore, and Apps and Sites placements.

This will effectively restrict you to feeds, stories, search, and messages placements. While you cannot guarantee that you won’t appear before or after a non-brand-safe post in a user’s newsfeed, as this is based on what they interact with, it will ensure that your ads don’t appear within fake news/hate speech content, including articles, videos and apps.

Snapchat: Remove ‘Within Content’ placements.

Like Facebook and LinkedIn, this restricts you to ads placed between content, and you can also restrict it further to ‘User Content Only’ to limit the chances of being placed between news stories, though user content carries its own risks depending on what your target audience is publishing.

YouTube: Narrow targeting to channels and videos that are contextually relevant and brand safe, rather than applying only demographic/interest/in-market targeting.

Keeping in mind that this may massively restrict views on your ads, placing heavy restrictions on the placement list will keep your ads from appearing before or in any videos that might contain hate speech. That said, YouTube already does a solid job of restricting advertising and monetisation on channels that run non-brand-safe content, making it a viable alternative to Facebook if your advertising is primarily video.

Twitter: Pause use of promoted hashtags.

These are the easiest ad unit for a group on either side to hijack. We suggest sticking to newsfeed ads for now.

TikTok: If the risk is too high for your brand, keep your campaigns off the platform for now.

TikTok is a tougher one to mitigate as the ads platform currently has limited targeting capabilities and restrictions, which means you can only elect to advertise on the app as a whole.

Programmatic display: Review site blacklists and make sure they're up to date.

Ideally you already have brand safety measures and site blacklists in place, but this is definitely the time to review those lists and make sure they’re up to date. This is also the time to do a comprehensive review of the sites your ads are appearing on and what quality of traffic each site is driving.

Whatever you think about the social and ethical responsibilities of brands in this space, if you haven’t done so already now is a pretty good time to take a deep dive into your media activity to check that you’re not accidentally funding groups or publishers that promote or tolerate hate speech. If not in the name of corporate responsibility, then in the name of brand safety. And if you find that you are, make plans to move away from those platforms or use them in a way that reduces your exposure to risk.

Inez Zimakowski

Inez Zimakowski
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