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Live streams like Buffalo shooting show brand safety pressure on social media

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Platform and brand responsibility

Attempts to reach Twitch were unsuccessful. The “Just Chatting” stream from April where the “Great Replacement” theory was debated was unaffiliated with the shooting, but ran programmatic ads from major brands. Twitch is a vibrant video streaming community, mostly for gamers to share their skills in front of 31 million daily viewers. The company is attempting to become a mainstream media platform, one ready for conversations around primetime NFL games. Amazon has exclusive rights to the league on Thursdays in September for the first time.

A Hyundai spokesperson said that the car company was working with Twitch to fix any inappropriate placements going forward. “Hyundai works constantly with Twitch and the other digital platforms it advertises on to ensure its ads run with content that follows established protocols and filters,” the spokesperson said by email. “We are ensuring this content is on a blocked list moving forward.”

Amazon is trying to clean up Twitch by creating more official content by curating channels under corporate supervision, and opening it to advertisers. “For Twitch, With Twitch” was one of the new programming tracts that Amazon revealed at its NewFronts ad sales event earlier this month. The timing around NewFronts makes the Buffalo attack all the more sensitive for the company as it is looking for strong brand support.

“They are very active in recruiting and funding more structured shows in categories that are easier to gain ad money for,” said one digital media ad buyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the brand safety ramifications for Twitch following the shooting.

“The most important person at a platform in this year’s NewFronts cycle is going to be the platform’s head of brand safety,” said Lou Paskalis, president and chief operating officer at Mobile Marketing Association Global, an industry trade group. “Media buyers need to understand what the platforms are working on, and specifically how are we going to be mitigating these issues.”

In an industry that relies on sponsorships and advertising dollars, the conversation has turned to the responsibility of brands, which have had concerns about social media platforms for years. Platforms like Amazon’s Twitch, Google’s YouTube, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, ByteDance’s TikTok and Reddit have all worked with industry groups like the Global Alliance for Responsible Media to create some guardrails. Meanwhile, to show how much this debate about moderation has permeated social media, look no further than Elon Musk, who has offered $44 billion to buy Twitter. Musk has made looser moderation a cornerstone of his argument for why he should buy the site, claiming the platform is too strict in taking down certain forms of speech.

YouTube has been dealing with the brand safety question ever since there was a brand boycott of the service in 2017, when sponsors were worried about ads appearing on extremist and terrorist videos. YouTube has overhauled its policies in the intervening years to prevent ads from showing up on videos that promote racist theories. The video site has some leeway for permitting the publishing of videos around certain subjects on the grounds of “free speech,” but it tries to block those controversial subjects from carrying ads.

“We have long-held Community Guidelines that make clear we do not allow hate speech on YouTube,” a YouTube spokesperson said by email. “Our hate speech policy specifically prohibits content that promotes violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on attributes like their race, nationality, or immigration status. This includes some claims made under the so-called ‘Great Replacement Theory.’”

Last year, Facebook started testing “topic exclusions” in its feed, which are meant to limit brands’ exposure to subjects they consider sensitive.

In many ways, the Buffalo shooting shows what Musk critics were worried about, if he ultimately takes over Twitter, according to an advertising executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It really puts Elon Musk’s Twitter rhetoric in sharp relief,” the advertising executive said. “It doesn’t just feel out of step, but it feels like the Silicon Valley conventional wisdom from 2006 is way out of date. The rest of the world has moved forward, and in fact Twitter had previously been a prime mover in accepting that platforms should play a more active role in safety matters.”

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