Everyone’s a publisher, though not everyone is a good publisher. Many have their own agenda (often undeclared), many are prejudiced, hateful and untruthful. Some are state-sponsored trolls. The rush to judge, find fault, distort, wound and ridicule means that much of the internet is a deeply unsavoury place to be. And that’s before we even get to the criminality and abuse.
As Times columnist Jenni Russell said on Tuesday’s Today programme: “social media divides us; it’s a place where our worst instincts come out to play and we organise ourselves into little vicious tribes.”
Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, referred to it as a “swamp”. He expressed his dismay this week that Facebook and Google were failing to eradicate content which creates “division in society and promotes anger and hate” He continued: “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”
This follows similar sentiments expressed last year by Proctor & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard. P&G went on to cut $100m of digital ad spend, without, apparently, any negative impact.
A trend seems to be developing, and the advertising stars look ready for realignment. The fact is that the digital behemoths can’t stop the abusive material, however much they might want to: user generated content is their business model and terabytes of the stuff are uploaded every minute, warts and all.
What might well change, though, is consumer behaviour as the man on the Clapham omnibus starts to eschew the bile and misinformation and look elsewhere for their news and entertainment. There’s our opportunity, and we must be ready to welcome them back.