The power of boycotts

Boycotts have a mixed history of success. From consumer boycotts of goods such as those against Nestlé for numerous ethical issues, to sporting boycotts of political regimes, their impact is typically optical rather than substantive.

However, as social media becomes increasingly prevalent, optics can be business critical.

A recent investigation by the Times found adverts on Google-owned YouTube were appearing alongside content from supporters of an extremist group. It was claimed that this was making them around £6 per 1,000 viewers, as well as making money for the company.

The dissemination of extremist content is a huge issue, but so is the task of monitoring and removing it. As it currently stands, Google only reviews content that is flagged as inappropriate by its users. With an estimated 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, it’s understandable to see why they take this stance. The Financial Times recently reported that around 98 per cent of content flagged on YouTube is reviewed within 24 hours, according to Google.

Challenged by the Home Affairs Select Committee on their processes around extremist content, executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter floundered and MPs were clear that they felt the digital giants were failing to deal with the situation with sufficient rigour.

Since the hearing, advertisers have begun to pull their support for YouTube. UK companies such as the BBC, the Guardian, Marks & Spencer, and the UK Government began the boycott but they have since been joined by US firms such as AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, and Verizon.

The solution to the issue will be complicated, but it’s clear YouTube and other online platforms need to find a solution.

Advertising pressure is also being successfully exerted on news sites that promote racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic views.

Sleeping Giants was founded after the 2016 US Presidential Election and has been making waves ever since.

Because of the nature of online advertising companies are mostly unaware of the sites on which their ads appear. The Sleeping Giants twitter account has a simple strategy: tweet at companies who unknowingly have ads on these sites and teach them how to blacklist the site from their ad distribution algorithm. As demand for the ad space falls, the price declines on the exchange thereby hitting the sites where it hurts – in their pocket.

In this digital age, companies need to be vigilant about their branding environments. While it might be labour intensive, the cost of not doing so may well turn out to be greater.

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