- We’re facing a national crisis with mass shootings, and as open platforms, YouTube and Facebook have contributed to the problem, contributor and former BI advertising editor Mike Shields writes.
- But they’re also in a position to effect a massive change in the situation.
- There should be an industrywide initiative to promote an anti-violence campaign, and the tech companies’ CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Susan Wojcicki should use their giant megaphones to widely promote it – and yes, even if it means alienating some of their users.
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Last year, facing intensifying scrutiny over the level of hate speech and misinformation flowing across his platform, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg got reflective.
“It’s important to me that when [my kids] Max and August grow up, they feel like what their father built was good for the world,” he told The New York Times.
Similarly, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has been through the ringer in recent years, trying to scrub a preponderance of hate videos, pedophilia videos and other scary extremes.
Wojcicki told the Times that while every decision she makes at YouTube in terms of content is tough, but she tries to use an overarching principle.
“If someone were to look back on the decisions that we’re making, would they feel we were on the right side of history? Would I feel proud? Will my children feel like I made good decisions?”
Well, here’s how things are going in the world for the kids of Silicon Valley titans, and all the rest of us:
- America is plagued by a never-ending string of mass shootings, with more shootings than days this year.
- Grade school kids and day care infants are doing active shooting drills.
- Politicians aren’t sure whether they should ban assault weapons, while a TV network is telling viewers that white supremacy is a made-up “hoax.”
What the hell, America?
Of course, all of this can’t be blamed on Wojcicki, Zuckerberg and their platforms.
But YouTube and Facebook have certainly played a role as vehicles and magnifiers for the darkest people in our society, whether that’s Russian election meddlers, neo-Nazis or would be school shooters. So have Twitter, 8chan and other sites that let the worst human thoughts permeate message boards and spread hateful ideologies.
Could Facebook and YouTube have done lots more much sooner to stop spreading all the bad stuff they have spread over the last few years? For certain.
Facebook and Youtube were able to amass billions of users without having to take responsibility for the content posted by users. That’s not likely to change, even if we all scream for them to step up and ban all the bad guys.
Wojcicki and Zuckerberg are, however, in a unique position to effect a massive societal changes.
They, like no other two people on Earth (including politicians) can exert influence over the gun debate. Instead of yelling at them to cleanse the bad messages, they could flip the viral, propagandizing power of their algorithms for good. Borrow some of the tricks used by the conspiracy crazies.
And here’s the thing: Wojcicki and Zuckerberg owe us.
They have apologised and promised to do better plenty. They need to do something big to pay us all back for all the problems they have – and continue to – cause.
It’s time for the most important ad account of our lives: A massive anti-gun violence campaign
I ranted on Twitter the other day that the advertising and media industry is uniquely situated to effect the gun catastrophe in our country, and they aren’t doing nearly enough beyond a few fundraisers.
We need the best creative talents in the industry to come together and create a massive campaign aimed at ending gun violence. They need to dial up the pressure on lawmakers like we’ve never seen. They need to turn this into a national cause.
I argued on Twitter that these creatives should do this campaign for free, and that the media and tech companies should give them billions in free ad space to help deliver it.
I had that partially wrong. Wojcicki and Zuckerberg should pay for it.
Obviously, both YouTube and Facebook should hand over loads of premium ad inventory for such a campaign, and they should lean on their recommendation engines and algorithms hard to make sure whatever ads this fantasy creative team comes up with gets seen by the whole world.
In addition though, YouTube and Facebook should literally pay for the work. Put aside a few million, maybe $US50 or whatever it takes, and pay for the most important ad account of our lives.
I’m not putting this all on Facebook and YouTube. This should be an industry wide initiative. Disney, NBCU, WarnerMedia, CBS/Viacom – should all be ready and willing to hand over millions, if not billions, in premium ad space for this campaign. For free.
Wojcicki and Zuckerberg should shame Bob Iger and Steve Burke and whoever else needs to be involved into ponying up. I’m talking about free prime-time ads, ads in NFL games, even Super Bowl spots. I’m not kidding when I say this should be the ad world’s, “We Are The World.”
This is a national crisis, after all.
The tech companies need to stand by their principles
Think an ad campaign can’t have much of an impact on how people think and feel?
Consider that the famous “Swift Boat” ad effort that turned a genuine war hero (2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry) into a virtual war criminal in the minds of many.
Or better yet, the fact that after decades of advertising, including commercials featuring gruesome lung surgeries and people breathing out of holes in their throats, smoking rates have plummeted in this country (if it weren’t for vaping, teen smoking was increasingly a non-factor).
It wasn’t all advertising for sure (lawsuits, public health initiatives, etc., helped). But campaigns like the famous Truth effort were major players in turning many off cigarettes.
We need to bring the same grim images to the gun fight. People need to see bullet-strewn kids on the big screen in their living room during the family hour for this to hit home.
I know what you’re thinking. Wojcicki and Zuckerberg will never go for this. Singling out a particular creator or campaign goes against everything for their neutral, open-to-all-platforms DNA. They can’t play favourites or take sides.
The thing is, what is the other side in this case? The pro-school-shooting crowd? The white supremacists?
You need to get over your principles. We all do. This is too important. You might piss off a few conservatives, and you may lose a few users.
You have billions of them – you’ll be just fine.
If nothing else, do it for your kids.
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