'Google has known about this for years': tech giant too slow to seek solutions, PR pros agree

Google's only solution to scrutiny and boycott over its treatment of offensive and extremist content is tangible action, having sat on the problem for too long, senior UK PR professionals agree.

'Google has known about this for years': tech giant too slow to seek solutions, PR pros agree

In recent days, a number of marcoms groups, public sector bodies and private companies have said they will not spend any more money on advertising on Google or its owned brands, which include YouTube, because of the risk of those adverts appearing alongside objectionable content.

It follows an investigation by The Times that found that campaigns for brands, including The Cabinet Office, Transport for London and L'Oréal, had appeared on YouTube alongside content including what the paper called "rape apologists, anti-Semites and banned hate preachers".

Google's EMEA boss apologised to the industry at an event on Monday, and the company has also been told by the Government that swift action is expected.

The tech giant receives little sympathy from five comms experts asked to comment on the story, due to how long it will have been aware of the issue.

Peter Murray, director of corporate affairs, Hume Brophy

"Google has learnt the hard way that businesses can't adopt the YouTube policy of waiting for others to flag inappropriate behaviour. Companies have to hold themselves to a higher standard, or risk their reputation.

"Last week, Google was defending free speech on YouTube in front of MPs. This week, they're busy banning certain language, and recruiting enforcers to police their site. All to deal with an issue the company has known about for years. The lesson: act, or be acted upon."

Andy Rivett-Carnac, partner, Headland

"Saying sorry is a first step, although it’s felt like a long time coming - too long in many eyes. This isn’t a matter of communications, it’s a matter of action - and fast. The fact that a review of policies, controls and enforcement is under way isn’t enough, not least because the big platforms have been under the spotlight about their processes for many months now.

"The challenge is for Google to do something tangible to demonstrate how seriously it is taking this. Facebook has just launched a pop-up that alerts readers to potential fake news, so it’s clearly possible. If anyone has the tech smarts then Google does."

Adrian Ma, founder and MD, Fanclub PR

"Imagine if you were the victim of a homophobic or anti-Semitic attack, and you heard that a brand like Royal Mail is inadvertently funding a hate group. You’d be hopping mad at Royal Mail and whoever was responsible for that placement. There’s an emotional dimension that Google’s comms needs to address if it’s going to appear sincere towards the consumer, as well as businesses spending money with them.

"There’s an urgent need to find a solution to help brands filter out this issue at scale and Google needs to move very quickly to communicate a significant collaborative effort. This communication needs to be open and transparent if Google is to start to rebuild trust and secure its future as a responsible advertising platform."

Jon Chandler, senior consultant, Quiller Consultants

"This is an old world and entirely predictable business problem - advertisers and their agencies have always been passionate about where their ads were placed and 'traditional' media owners have always invested a lot of time and resources in monitoring content and managing placement. I worked in TV advertising in the late '80s; I can recall a fist-fight between an angry agency chap and a station colleague over a mis-placed slot.

"What it needs is a new world operational solution to resolve it. The longer that doesn't happen to the satisfaction of the advertisers and policymakers, the greater the risk of reputational and commercial damage, and regulatory constraint."

Will Sturgeon, executive director and media trainer, Golin

"Google needs to prepare for mounting pressure and increased questions around why they can protect advertisers but aren’t doing more to protect consumers, or to deny a platform to people publishing extremist or hateful content.

"This issue is not new but the publicity it has received, combined with growing scrutiny over where companies advertise, means some brands may also take a second to consider the implications of rushing straight back to Google while a lot of controversial content is still live on sites such as YouTube, albeit without adverts anymore."

Click here to subscribe to PRWeek – you'll get essential breaking news, views & expert analysis; an exclusive UK Daily News email bulletin; industry-leading reports such as the Power Book, Global Agency Business Report, Best Campaigns & Best Places to Work; and a whole lot more.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in