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Unilever threatens to pull marketing spend from platforms failing to tackle fake news

Tom Rees
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has promised to tackle fake news - PA

Unilever, the world’s second largest advertiser, has threatened to pull investment from platforms that fail to tackle fake news amid a “techlash” from the public against social media giants.

The consumers goods company behind brands Lynx and Dove warned that brands “have to take the lead” in confronting the “deep systematic issue” as Facebook and Twitter attempts to grapple with a string of scandals in which their platforms have been used to spread politically-charged and misleading news reports.

Unilever says it will not invest in platforms that “create division” in society and “promote anger or hate”, arguing that “social media should build social responsibility”.

Facebook has come under fire for allowing fake news to flood users’ news feeds and Twitter has been accused of failing to confront political bots amid allegations that Russia used an army of fake accounts to sway the Brexit vote and US election in 2016. Tech giant Google is also attempting to purge search engine results of inaccurate and misleading news.

Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed will deliver his warning to tech companies at an industry convention later today. “Brands have to play their role in resolving it,” he will say. “No longer can we stand to one side or remain at arm’s length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly,” warned, adding that the industry is “sleepwalking on progress”.

Russia is accused of using social media to meddle in the US election and Brexit 

He will note that the public’s faith in tech giants has deteriorated in recent years with less than a third of Americans trusting social media platforms.

“Consumers don’t care about third party verification. They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the US election. They don’t care about good value for advertisers.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg used his new year’s message to promise to rebuild users’ trust by tackling the issue in 2018.

“The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do - whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

The social media network ditched its fake news red flags in December after they made fabricated media reports more believable to users and now shows “related articles” alongside fake news to provide more context.

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport select committee grilled representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter in a special hearing in Washington last Thursday with its chairman Damian Collins telling reporters that tech giants “would invest an awful lot more” in confronting the issue if threatened with legal action or fines.