Scotland Yard Calls on Advertisers to Help Tackle Terrorist Content on Smaller Platforms

Commander Clarke Jarrett, Head of
Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Unit

While social media sites have made progress in tackling the distribution of terrorist propaganda on their platforms, more of this content is now popping up on newer, smaller ad-funded sites says Commander Clarke Jarrett, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command. Speaking at the ISBA conference today, Jarrett said that while defunding content is just one small part of the fight, anything advertisers can do to help prevent the spread of terrorist propaganda can be very important.

Speaking to a room largely made up of advertisers, Jarrett gave a sombre talk outlining how digitally-spread terrorist content has helped fuel domestic terror attacks.

“If you can keep pushing that amongst these newer and smaller platforms, that will really go a long way,” he said. “They listen to money, it’s an important part of their business models, so anything you can do to influence those newer, smaller platforms will be a big help.”

The talk served as an important reminder that while brand safety problems on the likes of YouTube and Facebook will be perhaps reported mostly loudly in the media, efforts to counter harmful content must stretch to less well known platforms too.

Earlier in the day Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever and president of the Advertising Association (AA), had highlighted the problem too. Weed called advertising’s funding of bad activity one of the “seven deadly sins” of advertising, which he said has led to the erosion of public trust in advertising.

Weed outlined a new coordinated effort by the AA, the Institute for Practitioners of Advertising (IPA) and ISBA to restore public trust in advertising. The initiative, detailed in a white paper released today centres on five aims for the year ahead.

The first is reducing ‘bombardment’ in advertising – that is, annoying, intrusive and irrelevant ad formats which disrupt the consumer experience. Weed said that the IAB Gold Standard set of principles cover these problems well, and that the three trade bodies will push for 100 percent conformity with the Gold Standard in the UK.

The IPA, IAB and ISBA will work directly with agencies and marketers, running roadshows and training sessions to help them understand how to avoid annoying consumers, and making the business case to advertisers for why steering clear of these formats is better in the long run.

The second aim is reducing excessive frequency and retargeting.”How many people have just bought something like a vacuum cleaner or a leaf blower, and then you get targeted with adverts saying ‘buy a vacuum cleaner, buy a leaf blower’,” he said. Weed sees the problem stemming from a lack of understanding around how retargeting works, and said that ISBA is setting up a best standard set of standards with leading practitioners to help train the industry on how to avoid this problem.

The third point of action is advertising the work of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority itself. “When consumers know about the ASA, their trust in advertising grows,” he said. “Because when they’re aware there’s someone checking up on the industry, that’s a positive thing.” The three trade bodies will work together to help spread awareness around what the ASA does, and measure the impact it has on trust in advertising.

Action four involves working with the UK’s data regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office to capture best practice on how to use data in advertising in ways which foster consumer trust, and then to work with the industry to make sure these principles are held to.

The last aim is to promote to the public the ability of advertising to bring about social change.

Weed cited a few existing initiative such as the ‘unstereotype alliance’, which seeks to remove stereotypes around gender in advertising. This will include an effort to educate school kids about the ways in which advertising can have a positive social impact.

Weed seems positive that the industry is ready to work together on these sorts of problems. “The level of commitment of people across the industry to address this I think makes this a perfect moment to strike,” he said.

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