When Pamela Forbus stepped into her role as chief marketing officer for international alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard’s North America division in June, things were anything but calm.
Americans were struggling to come to terms with the way the pandemic upended everything from business and vacation plans to accessibility to everyday necessities—and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 had reenergized activists pushing for racial justice across the country.
On top of all that, hate speech and misinformation proliferated on social media platforms—places that people were relying on more than ever to connect with friends, family and news sources during periods of pandemic-induced lockdowns. In response, more than 1,200 businesses and nonprofits came together to form the Stop Hate For Profit campaign, urging brands to pause their ad spend on Facebook for the month of July to call attention to the lack of oversight and policy enforcement on the platform.
Forbus, in her first week on the job, had to decide whether Pernod Ricard and its brands would participate in the boycott. Not only did the corporation join the movement, it also expanded its boycott to all social platforms and announced plans for a crowdsourcing app that would give consumers a new way to identify and report hate speech when they encounter it.
At the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Marketing virtual conference this week, Pernod Ricard CEO Ann Mukherjee unveiled an even more detailed plan to tackle hate speech online. The multi-prong initiative—Engage Responsibly—involves consumers, brands and platforms to address the problem of online hate speech in a proactive, collaborative manner.
“I knew this was something that a boycott wasn’t going to solve,” said Forbus.
While she said the company was happy to see the attention that Stop Hate For Profit garnered for the problem of online hate speech, the problem required more than simply pointing fingers at the platforms and demanding they solve such a vast problem on their own.
“It’s a whack-a-mole game,” Forbus explained. “You shut something down, they’re going to show up in another platform or in another forum under a new name, and it starts all over again.”
While the tools and technologies that will make up the crux of Engage Responsibly’s efforts are still in development, Pernod Ricard outlined the major aspects of the initiative. First, it’s creating a uniform reporting system that will allow consumers to more easily flag hate speech when they see it on platforms. Second, it’s developing an Anti-Hate Certification program that will allow brands to evaluate their “hate footprint”—calculated by multiplying a platform’s safety score by the size of the brand’s media buy—and invest in countering hate speech online through nonprofits or community support initiatives.
“As advertisers, we simply can’t ask people to engage with our brands and social platforms, and then absolve ourselves of accountability,” said Mukherjee. “We cannot selectively choose to see and take advantage of the best aspects of these spaces, and then turn a blind eye to the negative as if it’s only the platform’s responsibility, or that of the industry associations to address a problem that impacts us all.”
The ANA and Global Alliance for Responsible Media have already endorsed Pernod Ricard’s initiative, and Salesforce and WPP have both signed on as supporters. Engage Responsibly will use GARM-aligned definitions of hate speech to identify harmful content and bad actors quickly, aiming to stem the spread of hate speech earlier in the process.