Your favourite social networks, online games, apps, and those of your children, are home to an alarming and growing number of in-network demeaning, destructive and even life-threatening behaviours. While some networks are investing in human and technological resources that impede these behaviours, most aren’t doing nearly enough to protect users.
What’s worse is that this activity is, in part, subsidized by brand advertising and sponsorship. Even though brands don’t intently set out to underwrite such behaviour, brands do often appear alongside questionable and even dangerous content. The question is, beyond monetary value, what are the human, platform and brand costs?
Besides shareholder value or audience reach, what’s the true cost of user wellness? What’s the cost to the platform experience? And, if a brand consistently appears next to demeaning UGC or taboo behaviour, what’s the cost to brand equity?
In February 2019, for example, Walt Disney Co and Nestle SA pulled advertising on YouTube after it discovered that their ads were shown next to videos used to facilitate a “soft-core paedophilia ring.” According to an April 2019 report by AdColony, nearly half of respondents said their view of an advertiser is negatively impacted when an ad appears alongside undesirable content. Just six months prior, brand safety company Cheq reported that ads that appear near negative content decrease consumer intent to associate with a brand by 2.8 times.
In the physical world, spaces are bound by Duty of Care. Owners and operators of event spaces, buildings, bars/restaurants, stadiums, parks and schools have an obligation to reasonably protect any person on their premises. If something unfortunate happens, the occupant injured (plaintiff) must prove that harm was a reasonably foreseeable result from the operator’s (defendant) actions or inactions.
Social networks should be held to similar, modern standards. In January 2019, The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report entitled “Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health.”
“…to protect children from harm when on social media sites—must be enshrined in legislation as social media companies having a ‘duty of care’ towards its users who are under 18. If that person does not take care, and someone comes to harm identified in the relevant regime as a result, there are legal consequences, primarily through a regulatory scheme but also with the option of personal legal redress.”
While governments and platforms explore solutions at a sluggardly pace, perhaps the duty of care conversation should expand to include the brands that underwrite digital discourse and engagement.
At the 2020 CES Mega Trends event hosted by Brand Innovators in Las Vegas, I had the chance to listen to Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar. In his brief but powerful presentation, he shared how Mastercard embraced new marketing roles in brand safety and risk management. Rajamannar, who famously froze Mastercard’s spending with YouTube in 2017 following a massive brand safety scandal, is aiming beyond just protecting the brand’s reputation against negative recall. He also believes it’s about societal safety and that brands must align to pressure platforms to also take action and stop pontification.
Rajamannar is the newest president for the World Federation of Advertisers. He believes that social media channels own the accountability and responsibility for societal safety and in his work at WFA and Mastercard, he’s pushing, and asking other marketing leaders to join him. In an interview with Digiday, Rajamannar expanded on this belief: “As marketers, and as people who are channels and channel owners – collectively we all owe to society to make digital a safe place.”
Carlos Figueiredo of Two Hat, an AI-powered solution aimed at keeping online communities safe by identifying and removing harmful UGC in real-time, is a big supporter of Rajamannar and other’s efforts.
“[Brands] have the opportunity to create a new kind of experience based on authentic concern and available advances in technology for the safety and well-being of users,” Figueiredo expressed in a recent article about cyberbullying and brands. He goes on to suggest that brands and platforms become purveyors of a “Safety by Design” approach to change the economy of online communities.
Safety by design changes the way that network operators think about platform redesign and enhancements and also the way they build new products. With user and brand safety in mind, everyone wins. Today though, platforms aren’t incentivized by safety by design. They are, as Figueiredo states, “hardwired for growth by design.”
“Brands that wish to be at the vanguard of protecting children…should consider adopting the same principles when planning the user’s experience with their brand,” he wrote.
Perhaps brand leaders, such as Mastercard, WFA and others in the Middle East region, will influence transformation to deliver these happier, healthier and more productive brand experiences.