Time Facebook And Google Accept They Are Publishers With Responsibilities

With great power comes great responsibility, Spider-Man was once told. Facebook and Google could well do with a sit-down with Uncle Ben, who recites the line in the movie (although it was just a narrative caption in the original comic, apparently).

To get an idea of how much power, take a look at the latest report from Zenith. It shows Facebook and Google take one in every five dollars of ad spend globally. To give that a figure, that's nearly $80bn for Google and $27bn for second-place Facebook -- well over $100bn combined in 2016. 

It may come as little surprise to see that Sir Martin Sorrell hit the nail on the head, writing in WPP's results last week. The big problem that both social media giants now face is that they have to accept they are publishers. You don't get to hoover up 1 in every five ad dollars and then hold your hands up and say you're not a publisher -- it's the users that are putting up extremist or hate-filled content. At that level of income, you are at the very top of the publishing game, and you have to accept responsibility. As an aside, in Sorrell's opinion, Google is doing a lot more to address this fundamental question than Facebook.



Thus, a Commons inquiry has suggested the social media giants should face massive fines if they continue to do very little about extremist content. With virtually no penalties for not removing offensive material, UK MPs have decided enough is enough. Apparently, the German authorities are thinking along the same lines, with massive fines up of to 50m Euros being suggested.

Considering the tiny amount of corporation tax that each pays, thanks to knowing all the accountancy dodges in the book, the giants might well just shrug and consider it a cost of doing business in the UK, and perhaps the EU. 

In other words, can you punish companies that are so rich? A 50m Euro fine would be a lunchtime's takings for one of these social media giants. Even a boycott of YouTube by a who's who of global advertisers has not had an impact on the bottom line. With the boycott in place during the first quarter of the year, Google's ad revenue shot up 19% year-on-year.

When governments and advertisers try to get the giants to accept greater responsibility, it seems that money doesn't get you too far. Perhaps a boycott would have more bite if it were able to carry on, but I have the distinct feeling that with a couple of tweaks to algorithms here, YouTube will be back on advertisers' media plans.

No -- the real solution has to be a combination of potential government fines and the risk of boycotts, combined with Facebook and Google stepping up to the proverbial plate. That goes for any social media giant. Staff must be made available to react far more quickly than at present when people are flagging up content as unsafe. There must be protection from brands against publishing next to offensive material.

These measures are up to the companies themselves. In the case of Facebook and Google, they are simply too big to be cowed by fines and too smart to let boycotts last too long. Even when they do get boycotted, there seems to be little impact. 

The solution is Facebook and Google reacting to pressure and stepping up to the plate. Fines and boycotts won't do this alone. Only they can.

1 comment about "Time Facebook And Google Accept They Are Publishers With Responsibilities".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Jay Stevens from Adform, May 2, 2017 at 1:51 p.m.

    Great piece Sean, it's important to remember that big advertisers (basically anyone with an agency) only represents approx. 20% of GOOG's revenues, and the world's largest media agency and their single largest client, WPP, only represents 5%.  The vast vast majority of revs are coming from longer tail who aren't as concerned with brand safety.  So while boycotts by a few advertisers get column inches in trade publications, it would take a wholesale blockade to make a dent.  

Next story loading loading..