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Market Voice 7 Dec 2021 - 3 min read

Brands are hypocritical if they don’t hold all media platforms to the same standard

By Venessa Hunt - General Manager, ThinkPremiumDigital | Partner Content

When it comes to media investment, not all media platforms are held to the same standards.

Imagine if Australian broadcasters and publishers knowingly on-sold people’s data, played a role in genocide or fuelled body image issues in teenagers. Brands would be boycotting them in droves and insisting they be held to account. Yet that’s exactly what other media platforms are doing with impunity. ThinkPremiumDigital’s Venessa Hunt asks why.

There’s a step change in urgency from brands to address societal issues as Australia’s biggest advertisers collectively interrogate and invest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

Consumers expect more from the brands they purchase from, and brands are becoming vocal on the need for their supply chains to echo these expectations.

However, when it comes to media investment, not all media platforms are held to the same standards.

While brands and consumers demand Australian media outlets uphold ethical and moral standards and boycott them when they fail to do so, social media platforms are seemingly given a free pass – or, at least, an easier set of rules to play by.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts.

In April 2021, reports emerged of an alleged data breach, impacting half a billion Facebook users from 106 countries. This was not a new data breach, but an older one, which had bubbled back up for millions of users whose data, including their names and phone numbers, was now available to purchase online.

In September 2021, whistle-blower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, revealed Facebook's own research showed it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest. Internal research also showed Instagram causes anxiety and depression in teenage girls, with misinformation spread on the platform directly contributing to genocide and displacement in Myanmar.

In October 2021, documents from a Texas-led antitrust lawsuit against Google outlined anticompetitive ad tech policies and collusion with Facebook to rig the digital ad market. 

The documents allege Google manipulated auctions to ensure market share and well-padded fill rates.

And then, following the biggest fine in US history for gathering data on kids and selling it, TikTok, is facing class action in the US with a lawsuit alleging the company violated federal and state law by collecting and using personal data. TikTok denies the allegations but recently put out a notice to users directing them on how to claim settlement.

Falling outside the normal moral constraints

We all make mistakes but this pattern of behaviour is so much more than a one off or a momentary lapse in judgement. Errors are primarily accidental. They are corrected with procedures put in place to ensure they aren’t repeated. The above examples are just a snapshot which suggests systemic issues.

An even greater concern is the “knowing-ness”. These platforms knowingly impact teen self-image, and knowingly choose to profit from it. They knowingly on-sell data and knowingly exploit the ad tech chain.

They do this, knowingly, and still aren’t punished.

It’s hard to imagine Australian publishers or broadcasters being afforded such leniency. And it’s hard to imagine advertisers actively increasing their advertising spend with them if they did. Multiple campaigns against on-air personalities that have seen their programs stripped of ads spring to mind. And yet, that’s exactly what is happening with the social media platforms.

Facebook’s third quarter revenue report shows revenue grew 35 per cent to $29.01 billion. Google, meanwhile, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. reported $53.1 billion in ad revenue for the same period. And according to reports, TikTok owner ByteDance is expected to make about $63 billion in 2021.

Advertisers talk about investing with media companies with shared brand values. Often, they request social responsibility frameworks and environmental impact policies from Australian media companies before entering media negotiations. And yet, the same brands can be seen investing significant revenues despite all the above concerns.

It is time marketers started asking all media platforms for higher social purpose standards and to holding them to account.

Next time you read about one of these issues, ask yourself, is my media investment congruent with my brand values?

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