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raceAhead: Unilever Threatens to Pull Ads from Facebook

Another day, another problem for Facebook.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, Calif. begins today, and Unilever is expected to announce a reduction in ad spending on tech platforms that don’t clean up their acts.

“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,” Unilever CMO Keith Weed is expected to say in his prepared remarks, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

It’s a significant threat. According to the company’s most recent annual report, Unilever spent more than $9 billion last year advertising its products. And the consumer giant, a stalwart of the Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list, has proven to be serious about its many commitments to address pressing social issues.

How Facebook and others will respond will be instructive. Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean, International Business & Finance, Tufts University, and digital trust expert says the issue is basic business.

“Our research finds that companies working toward corporate social responsibility will only succeed if their efforts align with their core business models,” he says. An advertising model, which is how Facebook makes most of its revenue, encourages quantity, including harmful or untrustworthy content, over material that’s been vetted and verified. And when it turns out that bogus stories, hate speech, and screaming memes are more engaging, judgments get even cloudier.

While the impact fake news and hate speech has had on established democracies is still being dissected and debated, in emerging economies, the failure to be vigilant can quickly turn deadly.

Chakravorti offers Myanmar as one of many examples. Facebook is the dominant internet site in many countries because of a program called Free Basics, which let users connect to a few key sites from their phones without incurring more data charges. But in Myanmar, “One of the effects has been devastating,” says Chakravorti. “Rumor campaigns against the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar were, in part, spread on Facebook, sparking violence. At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed by Myanmar’s security forces between August and September 2017; 630,000 more have fled the country.” Not only did Facebook not stop the propaganda and rumors, he says, but they also seem to have shut down responding posts from a Rohingya activist group.

Chakravorti is joining a growing chorus of voices asking tech companies to do more to keep people safe on the platforms they’ve created. Click through for his three-point plan – a call for thoughtful action for digital platform stewards and the people who use and advertise on them.

While protecting children and society may now be a non-negotiable element of Unilever’s marketing decisions, it’s going to take some work for online platforms to meet the bar.

Chakravorti’s bottom line advice to Facebook sounds equal parts simple and impossible: We’re all going to have to re-think what we’re willing to do to make a buck. (Which includes, by the way, the employees whose bonuses are based on growth and revenue targets.)

“Facebook could use its huge trove of user data responsibly to identify, design and deliver new services that people would pay for,” he says. Maybe the pressure of losing a major source of revenue will stoke some creative thinking. There’s already reason to be optimistic. “I’ve expressed how upset I am that the Russians tried to use our tools to sow mistrust,” Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said during the company’s Q3 earnings call with investors last November. Security was going to become a priority and revenue would surely go down. “I want to be clear about what our priority is: Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

Chakravorti says the pain is necessary. “Growth may be the easy part; being the responsible grown-up is much harder.”

On Point

NBC fires Olympics analyst for insulting commentaryJoshua Cooper Ramo, an expert on Asian history and culture, was fired from his role as analyst for the PyeongChang 2018 games, after he insulted many Koreans Friday night by saying, “Every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural and technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.” Japanese rule of Korea (1910-45) is a painful and sensitive issue in the country, and the remarks raised an immediate online outcry. NBC issued an apology along with the dismissal. According to his website, Ramo is a leading China scholar, the Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates, the advisory firm run by Henry Kissinger and a Starbucks board member.Korea Times

What Black Panther means
Now that Black Panther week is finally here, journalist Jamil Smith will help you get your mind right before the excitement begins. He begins by reminding us that rich, nuanced characters of color aren’t just good for young people in search of role models, “but also for others who need to see and understand us.” As a film that explores both African and African American identity – and from a nation that had never been colonized, at that – it’s an opportunity to explore an alternative narrative of black civilization, uninterrupted by oppression. While it is poised to challenge ideas about what stories and which bodies drive revenue at the box office, it’s also a balm in a terrible time. “In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance.”
Time

Everyone is a chain migrant, really
This is the point of Baltimore-based freelance writer Jennifer Mendelson’s latest public project, which is part geneology and part advocacy. Mendelson has been scouring online sources looking for the immigrants in the family trees of anti-immigration politicians and posting it on Twitter. After Rep. Steve King [R-Iowa] said, “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” Mendelson posted that his grandmother had arrived as a child at Ellis Island in 1894. The examples get better from there. “It’s hilarious how easy it is to find hypocrisy,” Mendelsohn said. “And I’m a scary-good sleuth.”
New Yorker

The Michigan Law Review has its first black editor-in-chief
Megan Brown, a second-year law student at the University of Michigan has been named the editor in chief of the Michigan Law Review. She will become the first black person to hold this position. The Law Review began publishing in 1902. “I will admit that it did take a while,” Brown told the Michigan Daily. “It should have happened sooner. But I like to think of this as mostly good news. There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening on campus and in the world racism-wise, and it feels good to know that at least my community has faith (in me).”
Michigan Daily

The Woke Leader

2018: We still need a travel guide to stay safe in the South
The Negro Traveler’s Green Book was a famous travel guide for black travelers during the Jim Crow era, offering advice on how to avoid Klan encounters, and where families would be welcome to buy gas, lodging or a meal while traveling through America. An informal version of the resource has emerged on Facebook, as black people, facing similar questions, compare notes. It began as Marlin Barber, who teaches history at Missouri State University, took his concerns about a planned road trip to Arkansas with his mixed-race family to Facebook. What followed were harrowing stories of epithets and threats, and a call to bring the Green Book back.
The Guardian

Spain’s first black, female member of parliament will not be backing down anytime soon
Rita Bosaho, Spain’s first female Black member of Parliament, is part of left-wing coalition Unidos Podemos (United We Can), fighting for gender issues and equity within Spain’s conservative government. Her personal story is one of grit writ large. Born in Equatorial Guinea when it was a Spanish colony, she escaped to Spain during a time of post-independence upheaval and was raised by a foster family. She became a single mom, a nurse and started a PhD., but became politically active during the economic crisis of 2008. In addition to offering strong opposition to the austerity prescribed by the current government, she is working toward greater representation for Spain’s diverse population. “I bear a triple responsibility as a woman, an African and a Spanish,” she says.  “Spain is not white. And it’s never been.”
OZY

W.E.B. Du Bois drew his own infographics, among many other things
Of all the many things Du Bois is known for, here’s one most don’t know: He was a data scientist and graphic artist. He became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University in 1897, and began publishing scholarly works exploring the lives of black people based on his extensive fieldwork. In 1900, the Paris Exposition hosted their scholarship as the Exhibit of American Negroes, which included 58 gorgeous hand-drawn infographics created by Du Bois and his students. The information focused mostly on the socio-economic lives of the black populations they studied, but the presentations were cutting edge, “strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky,” according to one expert.
Public Domain Review

Quote

Would a Negro like to pursue a little happiness at a theater, a beach, pool, hotel, restaurant, on a train, plane, or ship, a golf course, summer or winter resort? Would he like to stop overnight at a tourist camp while he motors about his native land ‘Seeing America First’? Well, just let him try!
The Crisis, 1947