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Strange Bedfellows: Censorship, Big Tech and Social Media



INFLUENCER: Barkley's Theresa Myrill explores the debate around whether tech providers restricting access to their platforms equals censorship in the US

Strange Bedfellows: Censorship, Big Tech and Social Media

It's difficult, if not impossible, to turn on the TV or scroll through your phone without seeing discussions about censorship, specifically regarding the recent actions taken against Donald Trump earlier this year by Twitter and Facebook, and others promoting false narratives. What has resurfaced is the debate about whether tech providers restricting access to their platforms equals censorship in this country, but it's not that simple. 

The Big Three tech corporations - Facebook, Google and Amazon - who own almost 50% of the market, teeter on the edge of monopoly. Their ability to grant or take away huge access to communication streams echo societies that aggressively deny people access to free information. When we look at this issue through the lens of marketing, it’s worth exploring how the ideology around censorship, communication, and the big tech companies affects how, and to whom, we communicate to consumers.

Social media has often been the sounding board for culture since inception. It has been a place where people have felt safe to communicate their feelings regardless of how jarring or controversial they may be, cloaked in the words of the First Amendment. The reality is, social platforms are privately-owned companies—subsequently they are well within their rights to choose who their product or service is used by. However, what cannot be ignored is their access to a 4.14-billion-wide collective social platform user base, granting them a momentous advantage when thinking about their role in the marketing and media distribution machine. For example, knowing that almost 70% of all searches start with Google, if Google decides to censor certain categories or conversations from their platforms, this would drastically lower the probability of being found. Google has the ability to almost erase the existence of something. That simple equation can be applied to many of the social platforms that are taking a stance on banning certain content and topics. They have the ability to almost completely wipe away the ability of being seen and heard, and that is something that society and culture is going to have to understand and internalise moving forward.

What are the implications?

As social platforms begin to take a more active part in regulating conversations, we have seen them also begin to implement changes to immediately take on this challenge. Facebook recently added a new executive position filled by a former Obama administration member, Roy Austin Jr., named vice president of civil rights with the mandate to oversee Facebook's accountability on racial hatred and discrimination on its platform. Additionally, app Parler, which was gaining notoriety as a popular destination for extreme conservative groups, announced that its CEO was terminated by the board of directors. This follows an app shutdown by Amazon Web Services and a delayed relaunch.

More social networks are beginning to evaluate and consequently make changes to their internal content evaluation process, and it is going to be interesting to see how brands fit into the new conversational landscape. As marketers, we can do our part to continue to evaluate our contribution to those conversations and ensure they are meaningful, truthful, and authentic.

Some things for brands to keep in mind when tackling this conundrum is:

1. Establish your brand’s core value and stay true to it at all times when communicating with your consumer.

2. Do your due diligence with each of the platforms that you are putting forward for your client. Based on their user footprint, are they the right platforms for your brand?

3. Monitor the performance and comments on your content. How is your content resonating with viewers? If it is not connecting, be open to tweaking or re-evaluating.

4. Be aware of culture but don’t be controlled by it. Culture is key for relevancy, but not every brand needs a seat at the table for topics that do not align with who they are. Leave room for brands that can meaningfully contribute.

5. Push for transparency both internally and externally. Although marketers do not always have a say on the internal running of our brands, we do have the advantage of knowing the consumer - and consumer insights are priceless.

We are living through a social evolution. As we gracefully move into a more optimistic era in our country, social media will undoubtedly continue to be a sounding board for the sentiment of the people. As advertisers, it is our responsibility to take that sentiment and react in a way that is timely and thoughtful. One thing that we know for certain is that people who are resilient social creatures will continue to find new and creative ways of communicating and sharing information with each other in lieu of the quandary of censorship.

Theresa Myrill is vice president, Fuel and social media at Barkley

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Barkley, Tue, 16 Mar 2021 11:50:17 GMT