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Global Alliance for Responsible Media pledges action on harmful online content

David Murphy

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) has unveiled its strategy to create a more sustainable and responsible digital environment that protects consumers, the media industry and society.

Between July and September 2019, an estimated 620m pieces of harmful content were removed by YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Because of the platforms’ investments in teams and tools, the majority of this content was removed before consumers actually saw them. However, approximately 9.2m pieces of harmful content still reached consumers during that 3-month period, equating to roughly one piece of harmful content viewed per second[i].

GARM is taking action in a collaborative approach to protecting the 4bn consumers online today, with the goal of eliminating harmful online content and ensuring that bad actors have no access to advertiser funding. In addition to being profiled as a Lighthouse Project by the World Economic Forum, a series that spotlights the ways in which stakeholders are making concrete progress to address the biggest challenges of our time, the GARM has now been officially recognised as a key project for 2020 in Shaping the Future of Media Entertainment and Culture platform.

The Alliance was launched in June 2019 by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in partnership with its US member, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). The initiative continues to be driven by WFA and brings together a coalition representing $97bn in global advertising spending through 39 advertisers, six agency holding companies, seven leading media platforms and seven industry associations.

The coalition will accelerate progress by means of a three-pronged action plan starting June onwards. The first element of this is shared definitions. The Alliance has developed and will adopt common definitions to ensure that the advertising industry is categorizing harmful content in the same way. The 11 key definitions covering areas such as explicit content, drugs, spam and terrorism will enable platforms, agencies and advertisers to have a shared understanding of what is harmful content and how to protect vulnerable audiences, such as children. The Alliance believes that establishing these standards is the first step needed to stop harmful content from being monetised through advertising.

The second is common tools and systems: The Alliance will develop and adopt common tools that will create better links across advertiser controls, media agencies tools, and the platform efforts to categorize content. It believes that creating these links will improve transparency and accuracy in how media investments are steered towards safer consumer experiences, across images, videos and editorial comments.

The third element is independent oversight. The Alliance will establish shared measurement standards so that the industry and platforms can fairly assess their ability to block, demonetize, and take down harmful content. It said that transparency via common measures and methodology for advertisers, agencies and platforms is key to guiding actions that enhance safety for consumers. Adopting key measures and agreeing to independent verification will be key to driving improvement for all parties, which it will look to track annually. A special working group will be activating this strategy starting in April.

GARM’s long-term vision is to drive growth and connectivity for society on ad-supported media platforms, which foster and enable civil dialogue. Going forward, it said it is committed to taking further bold steps which represent the industry’s unique contribution to the challenge of eliminating harmful content, complementing the approaches that have been taken by governments and online platforms.

“Advertisers can play a unique role in improving the digital ecosystem that we all want to enjoy,” said WFA CEO, Stephan Loerke. “Given that brands fund many of the platforms and content providers, we can ensure society gets the benefits of connectivity without the downsides that have sadly also emerged. These first steps by the GARM are a significant move in the right direction, which will benefit consumers, society and brands.”

A number of GARM’s advertiser and agency members have also expressed their support for the initiative. Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble, said: “It’s time to create a responsible media supply chain that is built for the year 2030 – one that operates in a way that is safe, efficient, transparent, accountable, and properly moderated for everyone involved, especially for the consumers we serve. With all the great minds in our industry coming together in partnership with The Global Alliance for Responsible Media, we can and should avoid the pitfalls of the past and chart a course for a responsible future.”

Luis Di Como, EVP global media at Unilever, said: “The aim of our media investment is to be a force of good for our purposeful brands and society at large. That’s why we have established and implemented the Unilever Media Responsibility Framework which advocates responsible platforms, content and infrastructure.

“We are encouraged by the progress we have made scaling our efforts and working together with the industry under the Global Alliance for Responsible Media to address the current complex challenges. The consistency created by aligning the industry definitions, tools, and measurement is another step in our journey to create a better, brighter, safer and more trustful digital ecosystem for brands and society.

Jane Wakely, lead CMO for Mars, noted that while digital media has fundamentally reshaped the way we connect with the world, harmful and hateful online content has the power to tear us apart. “By driving collective action across the industry, and developing safeguards to ensure advertising budgets aren’t fuelling harmful content, we’re striving to create safer online communities to protect consumers,” she said. 

Finally, John Montgomery, global EVP brand safety at GroupM, said: “When the Alliance launched in Cannes, we recognized the uncommon collaboration that would be required to make a meaningful impact on reducing harmful content online. The Alliance has made tremendous progress with a strong action and plan, and it’s vital this momentum continues. GroupM are proud to lend our full support.”

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