3 months after a major advertiser boycott which led to massive brands such as Coca-Cola, The Hershey Co., Unilever, Verizon, Honda, Birchbox, Ben & Jerry’s, The North Face, REI, and Patagonia among other groups withdrawing their advertising from Facebook in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody, the World Federation of Advertisers has reached a deal with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to give advertisers more control over what content their adverts are paired with.

In the past, advertisers have frequently complained that social media companies do not do enough to avoid pairing advertising with hate speech, or fake news, or similarly harmful content, and increasing threats of regulation seem to be pushing the platforms to appear to be taking action on the issue.

Shared Standards

The agreement will see a set of shared standards being put in place, including shared definitions of hate speech and bullying, as well as “harmonised” reporting standards.

As well as giving more control over what content their ads will be paired with, the platforms have also agreed that they will allow external auditors to review some of their practices, although it is not currently clear exactly which ones.

VP for Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, Carolyn Everson, said “[this] has aligned the industry on the brand safety floor and suitability framework, giving us all a unified language to move forward on the fight against hate online,” while Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever (one of the biggest advertisers in the world), said “This is a significant milestone in the journey to rebuild trust online. Whilst change doesn’t happen overnight, today marks an important step in the right direction.”

Optimism Not Necessarily Shared

While the agreement may have made big companies more comfortable about giving Facebook their money again, their optimism is not necessarily shared by people who have campaigned for more regulation of social media companies.

David Babbs, of a UK-based group pointed out that while any progress at reducing harmful content was to be welcomed, to date voluntary measures by the platforms themselves have rarely (if ever) lived up their initial promises, “so time will tell how much of a difference this latest industry-led initiative will make.”