The past week has seen a reckoning begin over the content policies – or lack thereof – governing the big media platforms.
Major marketers, including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Diageo, are halting spend on social media at least through July.
But there’s always the danger than these efforts end up being an exercise in virtue signaling once they’re out of the headlines.
To keep the pressure on after this initial period of backlash, IPG Mediabrands has released media responsibility principles to help clients hold their media partners accountable for the content on their platforms.
Now is “the moment to seize on the opportunity to get this to resonate across the industry,” said Joshua Lowcock, chief digital officer at UM and global brand safety officer for IPG Mediabrands.
Unlike brand safety, media responsibility is about more than protecting a brand and its reputation – it’s about protecting the communities a brand serves and acknowledging the impact that media has on society.
The principles encourage clients to seek out suppliers that promote respectful discourse and represent diverse voices, and to divert spend from properties that create hostile environments, marginalize groups of people and/or peddle misinformation.
“Even a ‘brand safe environment’ has other implications to consider, like what is your content funding and does it result in harm to society?” Lowcock said.
Mediabrands is also encouraging clients to consider whether media partners use data for targeting in a nondiscriminatory way, how they protect the privacy of children and how well they enforce their own policies related to media quality.
Supply chain transparency is also key so that advertisers can have more insight into where their ads are running. That means creating more private marketplace deals with publishers that have been vetted for trustworthiness by third parties such as NewsGuard or United For News.
“If you don't know where your ads run, you’re taking a risk,” Lowcock said.
As an agency group, Mediabrands can’t force its clients to adopt these principles. But it’s helping them adapt the framework to fit with their own corporate responsibility initiatives and also ensuring that the principles are part of the regular conversations its agencies have with platforms and publishers – both in quarterly business reviews and upfront negotiations.
“These principles help brands evaluate the right criteria for them, but clients need to take ownership,” Lowcock said.
What about the platforms?
Media responsibility will be difficult to enforce on major social platforms, namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which can be hotbeds for misinformation, divisive rhetoric and discrimination.
So Mediabrands is advising clients to push for more transparency and third-party accountability around how platforms are tackling hate speech and content removal, and for the platforms to share their progress in doing so over time.
“Too often these things become reactive rather than proactive, day-to-day conversations,” Lowcock said. “[These principles] force transparency reports to become part of the media conversation, not just a conversation between brand safety and policy people.”
Independent groups, such as the Media Rating Council, should also step up to review the progress platforms are making in, for example, removing hate speech.
And although Facebook claims its algorithms catch 90% of hate speech, it’s a brand’s responsibility to know the details of how prevalent hate speech is on the platform, how Facebook goes about removing it, what’s not being caught and what’s being flagged falsely.
“We need to move away from allowing people to grade their own homework,” Lowcock said.
Media responsibility is a broad undertaking, however, which is why Mediabrands is advising clients not to try and boil the ocean. Rather, they should pick specific areas to focus on that are applicable and relevant to their brands.
If a company does a lot of business in physical stores, for example, it may want to stay away from websites that spread misinformation about mask wearing.
But Mediabrands also knows that brands rely on the major platforms to grow their businesses. It’s not always realistic for a brand to pull out of these channels completely.
That’s why the agency is advising clients to benchmark progress against specific goals. Mediabrands plans to eventually share these benchmarks across its client base to help brands evaluate their own individual progress.
“This is about prioritization and challenging the status quo,” Lowcock said. “‘Avoid’ doesn't necessarily mean not to spend [on a given platform] – it means always be thinking about alternatives.”