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A top Unilever exec explains the CPG giant's about-face in combating harmful content online and why it's working with the platforms after threatening to yank budgets

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 28 Jan 2020


Unilever once threatened to pull ads from Facebook and Google over fake news and extreme content, but it's begun taking a more collaborative approach.Business Insider spoke to Luis Di Como, Unilever's EVP of global media, last week after Davos, where it joined an industry collective to combat harmful content online.Di Como said Unilever realized it couldn't tackle problematic online content on its own and that an industry-wide solution was needed.Click here for more BI Prime stories.Consumer packaged goods maker Unilever has long been vocal about making digital suitable for advertisers. But after threatening to yank budgets away from Google and Facebook over fake news and extreme content, it's begun taking a more collaborative approach.At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Unilever and other brands and platforms announced a plan to combat harmful content online as a part of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM). The alliance was launched last June by trade bodies including the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and is made up of advertisers as well as tech platforms including Facebook and Google themselves.Luis Di Como, Unilever's EVP of global media, told Business Insider why Unilever changed its approach, how it's scaling its efforts, and why he thinks tackling transparency, waste and fraud need to be an industry-wide effort.Tanya Dua: Transparency, waste and fraud have been a part of Unilever's agenda for quite a few years. Why did it decide to tackle it collectively'Luis Di Como: In 2018, we launched the Digital Responsibility Framework with three key pillars of creating responsible platforms, responsible content and responsible infrastructure. But despite all the progress that we have achieved alone in our conversations with media companies and platforms, we recognized that this requires a systemic change. And that's why are among the founding members of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. There was a limit on the things that we could drive alone. The unintended consequences of the digital revolution, whether it is fake news, harmful content or fraud, needs to be tackled as an industry as a whole.Dua:The Global Alliance for Responsible Media kicked off in Cannes last year. Has there been progress'Di Como:If you take the three months from July to September, 620 million pieces of content that were harmful were attempted to be uploaded on the media platforms, but through technology like artificial intelligence, processes and people, all of this was removed even before it was exposed to any people. However, there were still 9 million pieces of content that we identified as harmful that still reached consumerswhich means that on average every single second there is one piece of harmful content that's reaching them. For us, even one is too many. That's why we've got to step up as an industry. Independent, isolated efforts were a distraction, rather than moving into action and creating a positive impact.Dua:What do you hope comes out of the plan'Di Como: Everybody has a different understanding of what harmful content means. Each platform has their own community guidelines, each media agency has a different classification, and we as advertisers have different views. But now we have arrived at a definition where all of us can say "this is harmful content"content that none of us want to see our brands associated with in any way, shape or form.Dua:Have the platforms made progress'Di Como:Absolutely. The platforms are taking this much more seriously. You can see from the number of people that they are hiring to remove the [harmful] content, the tools that they are putting into place. But there's still much more to do. That is why having independent oversight is so important.Dua:How so'Di Como: All the figures I mentioned are self-reported by the platforms. We need to have independent oversight to ensure that when we establish KPIs and we establish which is the metrics that we want to achieve, there are independent bodies that certify the robustness of those KPIs and that we are on the right trajectory.Dua:So you're not going to threaten the tech platforms anymore'Di Como: We have been obsessed over the past 10 years with ensuring that we are not associated with any bad content online. And this means making choices on the level of risk that we assume, and it means excluding some of the platforms that we believe don't have the right controls in place. Our approach has always been to have internal and confidential conversations with all of the platforms. We have never made public our investment and commercial decisions, but we are moving investments to the right places.Join the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Last minute gift wrapping' Here's how to wrap your present in under 2 minutes.
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