Unilever threatens to pull advertising spend with tech giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter over toxic culture and fake news

Lynsey Barber
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Marmite might disappear from online advertising if tech giants don't buck up their ideas (Source: Getty)

One of the world's biggest advertisers is threatening to slash the amount of cash it spends with tech companies if they fail to tackle fake news and toxic cultures on their platforms.

The stark warning comes from Unilever and its marketing chief Keith Weed who oversees an annual budget of €7.7bn (£6.8bn), spent on marketing for hundreds of well-known household brands such as Lynx, Dove, PG Tips and Marmite.

"It is critical that our brands remain not only in a safe environment, but a suitable one. Unilever, as a trusted advertiser, do not want to advertise on platforms which do not make a positive contribution to society," he will say in a keynote speech at a major industry conference on Monday.

Read more: Facebook has ditched its "disputed" flag for fake news. Here's why

He promised that Unilever will not invest in "platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate".

"We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society," he will say.

"Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children - parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us

"It is in the digital media industry's interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing."

It's the latest backlash against the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter which are facing growing pressure over their unrivalled power and influence. Politicians in the UK and US are investigating Facebook and Twitter over Russian propaganda appearing on their sites and whether it could have swayed elections in both countries.

Last year several major brands pulled their advertising from Google after it was found they were appearing next to offensive and extremist content on YouTube.

A fresh row erupted with the video site this year after one of its most high-profile stars - Logan Paul - filmed himself in front of a dead body and firing a taser at a dead rat. Last week, the Silicon Valley firm ultimately owned by Alphabet, suspended advertising appearing on the content he uploads.

Read more: Government to review how Facebook pays for news content

Weed said it was also up to brands to help resolve the issues.

"No longer can we stand to one side or remain at arm’s length just because issues in the supply chain do not affect us directly. As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online," he will say.

"I prefer to be part of the solution."

Meanwhile, the consumer goods giant will also partner with IBM to pilot blockchain technology, exploring how it can help reduce advertising fraud.

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