Martin Flanagan: Vodafone rings true on fake news

It is to be hoped that other major advertisers follow telecoms giant Vodafone's commendable move in declaring commercial war on hate speech and fake news.

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Vodafone is talking tough in the fight against fake news and hate speech. Picture: Chris Ison/PAVodafone is talking tough in the fight against fake news and hate speech. Picture: Chris Ison/PA
Vodafone is talking tough in the fight against fake news and hate speech. Picture: Chris Ison/PA

Vodafone, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, specifically name-checked Google and Facebook as being among companies that “must take all measures necessary to ensure that Vodafone advertising does not appear within hate speech and fake news outlets”.

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Vodafone said it will block its advertising appearing where it is juxtaposed with such controversial platform content, instead creating a “whitelist” of acceptable sites and media outlets on which its ads are allowed to run.

The company explicitly acknowledges the benefits of digital advertising for large corporations, but says “it can also lead to unintended and potentially harmful outcomes including advertising appearing next to offensive content”.

Adding insult to injury, Vodafone notes that automated advertising technologies running on the back of algorithms can also have the effect of generating revenue for outlets focused on hate speech and fake news that go against its fundamental values of respect for “democratic processes and institutions”.

Concern has been growing in the wider corporate world that their ads appear on the likes of Facebook and YouTube next to media items that promote terror, hate speech and fake news, giving a patina of respectability to deeply objectionable tirades and misinformation.

Vodafone says its new policy will cover all social media, digital, print and broadcast channels, sites, apps, programmes and publications. Other corporates will be watching. The almost risibly corrupt Fifa that runs football worldwide only sat up and took notice of criticism when lead sponsors threatened to pull advertising if issues of probity were not addressed.

Money does talk, and maybe will do again with the digital behemoths who have changed the fundamental ground rules for what can be broadcast in cyberspace.

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Also commendably, Vodafone reiterated its existing rule that it expressly forbids using its advertising clout with a media organisation to try to influence editorial content on its products, services or corporate activities. Another bravo.