Sorrell calls for Facebook and Google to step up control

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 21 March 2017

WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has joined a number of agencies and advertisers expressing concern over unsafe ad placement, and repeated his concerns over the duopoly's position, suggesting they should be treated like media companies not tech firms.

In an interview with the CNBC he called for the digital giants to control where the advertisements are placed as well as put a stop to fake news.

"They've always maintained they were sort of digital engineers standing there with their digital spanners, trying to tighten the nuts on their digital pipes and not being responsible for the content that was going through the pipes," Sorrell said.

His comments follow findings that a number of brands are unwittingly placing ads next to ISIS, white supremacist and pornographic content.

"They can't just say look we're a technology company, we have nothing to do with the content that is appearing on our digital pages," Sorrell said.

He added that, as far as placing advertisements was concerned, they have to be held to the same standards as traditional media organisations.

"The big issue for Google and Facebook is whether they are going to have human editing at this point ... of course they have the profitability. They have the margins to enable them to do it. And this is going to be the big issue - how far are they prepared to go?" Sorrell said.

As concerns over brand safety swell, Facebook and Google face losing revenue. Havas Media UK joins a growing list of clients in the UK who have also paused their ad spend with Google's display and video networks, including the government, Transport for London, the Financial Conduct Authority, The Guardian, Channel 4 and L'Oréal.

"I think the most constructive way of doing it is getting Google and Facebook to understand the problem, which I think they do, and to get them to step up to control it just like any other media right now would in a traditional sense," Sorrell said.

Local agencies told AdNews yesterday (20 March) they don't have plans to follow Havas' lead at this stage but all are watching closely.

Facebook has long protested that it is a media company because it doesn't create the content shared on its platform, but in December 2016, CEO Mark Zuckerberg signalled a slight shift saying: "Facebook is a new kind of platform. It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used.

“We don’t write the news that people read on the platform. But at the same time we also know that we do a lot more than just distribute news, and we’re an important part of the public discourse.”

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