Advertising industry asks for greater government regulation of social media platforms

The Commercial Communications Council and Association of New Zealand Advertisers have written jointly to the Prime Minister asking that Government actively address local regulatory solutions and encourage a coordinated international response by political leaders to ensure social media platforms are good corporate actors.

Due to inaction in the weeks after the Christchurch attacks from social media platforms, we reached out to our global networks for support to petition Facebook for change to its live streaming platform. In response, the World Federation of Advertisers on 28 March called on its members and brands worldwide – in their capacity as the funders of the online advertising system – “to put pressure on platforms to do more to prevent their services and algorithms from being hi-jacked by those with malicious intent”.

The belated response from Facebook, firstly as a letter from chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg to the New Zealand Herald (30 March) and subsequent comments by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, pushing back on calls to delay live stream feeds (4 April), demonstrate a lack of commitment to meaningful change. This is affirmed by the lack detail provided of exactly what platform changes will be made and by when.

The unfortunate reality is this. Nothing has been done by Facebook to ensure the dreadful events such as occurred in Christchurch cannot be live streamed again. While the advertising community will continue to apply what pressure it can, we believe that platforms have not demonstrated sufficient integrity over this issue to continue to be allowed to define the rules of content management. Instead, regulators now need to step up to ensure meaningful change does in fact occur. We note that regulators are making steps in this direction in a number of jurisdictions, including the UK and Australia.

Some platforms have made positive initial steps in response to what occurred online. For example, Google’s YouTube has put in place stronger account verification standards before live streaming is allowed. This includes raising the threshold for YouTube Live on mobile. Moving forward, to be able to live stream to YouTube on mobile devices, channels need to have at least 1,000 subscribers. These simple initiatives demonstrate that steps can be taken to better protect the community, where there is a will to do so.

Reaching a satisfactory outcome was never likely to be achieved by advertiser pressure alone. It requires regulators, commerce and the community to collectively take action. To this end we are now encouraging the Government to address the question of appropriate regulation of social media platforms. We believe that New Zealand is uniquely placed to lead what is a rising call for appropriate regulation applied to online platforms.

As an industry, we stand ready to work with Government on this issue.

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