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Ethics & Digital Content: Who’s Accountable?

Remember the Facebook boycott in July 2020? And the Stop Hate for Profit campaign?

Those concerns haven’t abated even slightly.

In this takeover episode of #FlipMyFunnel, Content Matters host Barb Mosher Zinck speaks with Jim Edmunds, CEO at Ingeniux, about ethics and digital content. 

Here’s our driving question: How can we as tech providers advocate for better ethics and standards over profits? 

Let’s dive right in.

Advertising on social media

Social media is a critical component of marketing strategies for all brands today. Yet we have growing concerns about where and when our ads are displayed.

It’s unarguable that a social media presence is compelling for advertisers.

First, social media networks have incredible reach. 

  • Worldwide, about 80% of consumers use social media. 
  • In the US, about 60% of consumers like or follow a brand on social media.
  • In the US, consumers spend 2+ hours a day on average on social media.

Second, social media has incredible depth in its ability to target an audience for advertisers. Because they have profile information and tracking, social media platforms are essentially a medium that’s custom tailored for advertising. 

Third, social media platforms are constantly innovating new features and algorithms that yield results for advertisers. TV and radio advertising basically hasn’t changed in 50 years, but social media platforms are innovating monthly, weekly, daily.

Now… the concerns.

Yes, social media platforms shine with the promise of digital content, but they have a dark side.

The ability to track consumers opens opportunities for manipulation, exploitation, and misinformation.

“Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — they can say they’re technology companies. They’re not. They’re advertising platforms, plain and simple. And the owners of those platforms are primarily interested in juicing their numbers,” Jim said.

Stop Hate for Profit

Ingeniux chose to pause Facebook ads in July 2020 as a show of support for the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

“It comes down to what kind of world we want to live in,” Jim said. “We’ve seen the damage that social media can do… violence attributed to online hate speech, political polarization, erosion of our democratic foundations.”

While acknowledging that social networks have taken actions to address this damage, Jim said it was too little, too late.

The campaign was a demonstration from companies that cared when and where their advertising appeared through the aggregate of lost profits for Facebook (which has bragged about refusing to stand accountable for the content in its network).

Legally, social networks don’t have to take responsibility for what people publish on their site. Morally, it’s a different story.

“There is an institutional structure to this that allows them to benefit from the anonymity, the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility… for the content that they’re putting on their network,” Jim said.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign was a boycott by advertisers, not consumers or end users, to challenge Facebook specifically to stop padding its bottom line with hateful content.

Consumers and advertisers both standing together on their demands for content that is responsible and respectful could have an even greater impact on the policies and practices of social networks.

The culpability of social & traditional media

“Generally, there’s been an erosion and the tone and tenor of public discourse in all media over the last 10 to 15 years,” Jim observed.

It’s not just social media but traditional media as well. 

“Digital content is especially susceptible to fostering hate and divisiveness and misinformation because users can post anonymously,” he added.

Now, the vast majority of business enterprises use digital media and digital content responsibly because they are held accountable by their brand reputation, if nothing else. Deceit and hate do not make a positive customer experience.

“You can’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Yet that is what’s happening every day on social networks,” Jim said.

Neither does the solution lie in new algorithms, censorship, or AI moderators. Looking for relief in that direction merely removes the human even further from social content and increases our online anonymity.

Content is human, and the responsibility for widespread changes to content lie with the humans themselves. “It’s about human beings monitoring and working with other human beings to create responsible, accountable content,” Jim said.

Steps for change

Users need to demand more responsibility from social media. If users boycotted social media platforms, that would accelerate change.

In the US, social media companies are legally shielded from liability from content. This should end.

Business enterprises are held accountable for content. Social media platforms should equally be held accountable for their content.

Organizations should seek technological tools to enforce and manage greater accountability and greater responsibility for how their ads are used and how user data is tracked.

Bottom line: The change needs to come from everywhere at the same time.

Get in touch with Jim on LinkedIn, learn more about Stop Hate for Profit here, and subscribe to Content Matters.

This is a #FlipMyFunnel podcast. Check us out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or here.