Shareholders have filed resolutions with Omnicom and The Home Depot seeking a third-party investigation of whether the companies’ ad policies are contributing to violations of civil or human rights. The proposals are particularly concerned about the companies’ ad placements on social media and the potential to support voter suppression, white supremacist and other hate groups.
“Advertising is the lifeblood of social
media,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a corporate accountability nonprofit that’s coordinating the shareholder actions. “The rampant abuse we’ve seen
proliferate on social media is impossible without financial support from some of the biggest brands on the planet. They are in no small part responsible for these abuses, and they have the duty to
Connor added that “Home Depot and Omnicom are leading advertisers on social media. Home Depot was the top ad buyer on Facebook in 2019, spending a reported $179 million. [Home Depot disputes that it is the top spender as well as the accuracy of the reported figure]. Omnicom is the second largest advertising holding company in the world, managing a total of $38 billion in ad buys from clients including Disney and Apple. The company is also part of Facebook’s client council, advising on issues like content moderation. Neither of the companies formally joined over 1,000 advertisers who boycotted Facebook over the summer in order to curb the spread of hate on its platform.”
The Omnicom proposal states “There is widespread concern that platforms like Google and Facebook may be failing to protect civil and human rights by supporting government censorship, facilitating white supremacist activity, and enabling voter suppression. Facebook has noted that, 'One of the biggest issues social networks face is that, when left unchecked, people will engage disproportionately with more sensationalist and provocative content.’”
The proposal adds that “Omnicom could face reputational and business risk if it is perceived to be contributing to the spread of racism, hate speech, and disinformation by facilitating advertising on social media platforms. Inadvertent promotion of harmful content by advertisers threatens user safety and brand value. Seventy percent of millennials and Gen Xers “will not like, recommend, or purchase from a brand whose ads appear next to offensive, hateful, or derogatory content.”
The resolutions to both Omnicom and Home Depot request that their respective boards “commission an independent third-party report, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, assessing how and whether Omnicom ensures its advertising policies are not contributing to violations of civil or human rights."
Omnicom responded that it is “committed to ensuring our client’s ads do not appear next to harmful content on social media platforms while holding them accountable to the ethical standards our clients are demanding and with which we are aligned.”
The company noted that its media management arm Omnicom Media Group formed the Council on Accountable Social Advertising (CASA) in July 2020. That group brings together advertisers, the major social platforms and OMG social media specialist “with the goal of accountability and transparency that has existed for decades within other media channels.”
Omnicom said the Council performed a detailed audit of all the major social media platforms to determine “the controls and/or absence of controls each platform had around their ability to uphold individual client and brand guidelines. After finding varying degrees of capability, CASA developed four pillars to ensure brand safety needs are met and platform content policies are enforced with the goal of reinstating confidence with advertisers.”
Negotiations were held with each platform. Gaps in content control were highlighted and each platform was asked to develop “workstreams” to address issues. “To date, all social media companies have agreed to remedy the issues identified. CASA will track that the remedies are implemented by each platform and act as a vehicle for measuring content policy adherence and enforcement. “
Home Depot issued a response: "We’re saddened and outraged by the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and our lawmakers. Like others, we’re disgusted by hate speech and discriminatory content we see on social media and never intend for our ads to end up on sites that promote hate or misinformation. We’re addressing the proposal through the appropriate process."