The Global Alliance for Responsible Media: will it work?
It's attracted some big names, but there are still many unanswered questions about adland's latest move to clean up the online world, writes Leena Vara-Patel
There is much to like and admire about the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, the new global initiative made up of a who’s who of the digital ecosystem with the lofty aspiration of cleaning up the digital media environment.
The aim of the alliance is to rid, or at least minimise, hate speech, bullying, disinformation and other objectionable content online, following a swathe of scandals about extremist and other toxic content appearing online and sometimes next to advertising,
Lauded for bringing the ecosystem together
Launched in Cannes to much fanfare, the initiative should be applauded for bringing together some of the world's biggest advertisers, including Mars, Unilever and Diageo; sitting alongside IPG, Dentsu and other big agency groups, various trade bodies, and Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Unifying disparate and sometimes competing companies to a greater good can prove tricky and bureaucratic, but the early mood music suggests they are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Crucially, the platforms are on board, which some may see as an acceptance their own efforts at policing their platforms are falling short, and that a new collaborative approach is needed, particularly in light of potential legislation.
Moreover, bringing the platforms into the fold suggests this collaboration - unlike similar type initiatives - could have real teeth, and be more than just a talking shop.
But for this alliance to bear fruit, those orchestrating it need to quickly lay down its guidelines, objectives, remit and powers, as there are still many unanswered questions.
Will smaller advertisers be marginalised?
It’s great that some of the world’s biggest advertisers have signed up, adding muscle to the alliance, but what about smaller advertisers?
How will their voices be heard? Presumably through trade bodies, like the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), who have also signed up to the alliance.
This makes sense, but there is a danger that smaller advertisers-also smaller tech companies and agencies-could feel marginalised, if they have less of a say in the decisions made by the alliance.
Furthermore, the likes of Unilever and Diageo are massive organisations, as are the big holding groups, so the alliance needs to ensure it’s fleet of foot and not slowed down by the bureaucratic decision making of these corporate juggernauts.
What powers will the collaboration have?
The alliance is clearly taking it on itself to fix the problem of cleaning up the digital ecosystem, arguing that the current system of individual brands demanding harmful content be removed from the platforms and improvements to brand safety is not working.
But will the alliance take things further and advise members on investment decisions and whether spend should be pulled? No, according to Luis Di Como, executive vice-president, global media, Unilever, who said “the alliance is not about investment decisions”.
This begs the question; what powers the alliance will have, how serious will their demands be taken by the platforms, and how easily they will be introduced?
For example, the platforms are understandably concerned about curbing free speech when policing their platforms and policies vary from platform to platform.
It has been suggested the alliance could develop a framework to improve the speed at which objectionable content is eradicated as well as new measurement tools to gauge success.
At launch, Facebook and Google made all the right noises, but remains to be seen if this will continue, particularly if brands start demanding significant changes as to how they run their businesses.
Amber light warning is a sensible idea
One suggestion put forward by John Montgomery, GroupM, would be to introduce an “amber light” system which would be shared across the platforms (and presumably affected advertisers) when particularly objectionable content appeared, like the New Zealand massacre video.
Following the New Zealand massacre, Facebook has made restrictions on who can live stream video on its platform by introducing a “one strike” policy. This bans users “who violate the platforms’’ community standards from using the live-streaming service for periods at a time.
While an “amber light” warning system sounds eminently sensible, using and implementing automated tools on live videos that are broadcast in the news is tricky.
Currently, the platforms don’t have effective AI to eradicate such content on a proactive basis and, in their content moderation policies, have carved out exceptions for harmful content to be used for news, educational and scientific purposes.
So, tech companies are in a difficult position of not only trying to assess news value, but also trying to figure out ways to automate those assessments at scale.
Too many industry initiatives
How the Global Alliance for Responsible Media will work with existing guidelines and standards is yet another question that needs answering.
For example, the World Federation of Advertisers released its Global Media Charter last year, also at Cannes, which was also supported by big advertisers like Unilever and Procter and Gamble and also looked to create a “safer, more transparent” environment for brands and consumers.
Perhaps, this new initiative will build on the Global Media Charter, as it will also build on existing efforts from member brands and industry organisations, like Unilever’s Responsibility Framework.
Bringing clarity to how these various standards and guidelines work is paramount.
The Global Alliance for Responsible Media is an admirable initiative, with lofty goals, and should be praised for bringing the digital ecosystem under one umbrella.
But until we know the granular detail of its strategy, at this stage it’s difficult to judge whether it will be a success or not.
Leena Vara-Patel is Director of Ad Tech at Agenda21