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Tina Casey headshot

Hate Speech on Social Media: There’s an App for That

A leading global beverage company has announced a new strategy it says can pressure social media companies to remove hate speech from their platforms.
By Tina Casey
Hate Speech

The month-long Facebook advertiser boycott took an interesting turn last week as beverage company Pernod Ricard announced a new strategy for pressuring social media platforms to remove hate speech. Instead of waiting to be flagged by grassroots boycott campaigns, Pernod wants to hear directly from consumers. That could provide the company with more powerful leverage over Facebook and other social media companies, and it could become a model for other brands to follow.

An app for objectionable social media content?

The Pernod strategy to take on hate speech involves developing an app that will enable it to collect and organize tips from social media users, with the aim of using that information in discussions with social media platforms over hate speech.

It is essentially a crowdsourcing effort, and it is apparently modeled on the well-known Sleeping Giants and Grab Your Wallet online boycott campaigns.  These campaigns launched in the run-up to, and aftermath of, the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle. They both deploy a strategy that differs from ordinary boycotts in one key respect.

Conventional boycotts typically involve rallying consumers to stop purchasing products or services. They often fail, though they can be effective when a brand is already suffering reputational issues. In contrast, the Sleeping Giants and Grab Your Wallet campaigns focus on the next step up the brand reputation chain.

Grab Your Wallet launched as a boycott of leading retailers to pressure them into dropping the Trump family of brands from their shelves and websites. Similarly, Sleeping Giants encourages consumers to contact leading brands about objectionable content on the media platforms where their advertisements are placed. That includes television as well as social media.

With its own app, Pernod can potentially collect tips and commentary from social media users more efficiently and bundle them into a powerful leveraging tool of its own.

Could this fight against hate speech work for all brands?

The Pernod approach seems like one of those simple, effective ideas that could have been implemented years ago by any number of leading brands. However, there are two brand reputation issues to consider.

One is the growing issue of privacy and data collection. Pernod has made it clear that privacy issues could be a key roadblock against its own effort, and it says it is making user protection a critical priority. That includes third-party oversight as well as transparency and governance structures.

Assuming that privacy is not an issue, though, brand reputation is still an important factor, and the app-based approach may not be a particularly effective one for all brands.

The strategy is a good fit for Pernod, and brands like it, that have spent years cultivating a reputation for inclusiveness and diversity. For example, Pernod’s Absolut vodka brand has engaged in a decades-long advertising campaign that highlights social issues, including advertising to LGBTQ consumers and, more recently, supporting International Women’s Day.

Through Absolut, Pernod has also become known for its efforts in water access issues and other environmental initiatives as part of a “radical transparency” approach.

In the right hands, a Pernod-style app can provide brands with a new pathway for connecting with socially conscious consumers, while providing consumers with the power to advocate for social justice — safely, conveniently and anonymously.

Pernod and other leading brands have a head start in that regard. Others may have more homework to do.

Beyond the Facebook boycott

When Patagonia and the North Face first announced they were suspending their Facebook advertising for July, the social media giant may well have assumed that the boycott effort against hate speech would sputter out.

However, the idea quickly caught on and more than 200 companies are now involved in the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. In addition, Pernod is among a group of companies that are determined to extend the pressure campaign well past July.

Pernod announced its intention to develop the app on July 1 as a key part of its new “Beyond the Boycott” effort through Pernod Ricard USA.

The world is waking up to the reality that we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of hate speech, racism and misinformation on social media platforms,” said Pernod Ricard USA CEO Ann Mukherjee in a press statement.

The big question is: What happens August 1st? We need more action and more people within the industry to find more solutions. Companies like ours can and should play a bigger role in problem-solving than just withholding advertising dollars,” she added.

Mukherjee also made it clear that the company intends to stimulate broad social outreach far beyond its own consumers.

This is our initial step. And we want it to be a collective one,” she explained.  “As a member of many major U.S. and global industry organizations, which include other advertisers, as well as media and social platform companies, we want to work collaboratively with each towards this solution.”

That should be a wakeup call for Facebook and other media platforms, both new and conventional. Whether or not they hear it remains to be seen.

Image credit: Greg Bulla/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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