Will further regulation help kill off digital fears?

After much discussion, the Advertising Association (AA) finally submitted its recommendations to the Committee of Advertising Practice, for the extension of the non-broadcast advertising code in digital media. But negative headlines surrounding a murder orchestrated on Facebook means the risks of the internet are still as inherent as ever.

Joe Fernandez
Joe Fernandez

Much has been said about regulating the internet for children and watching your children as they surf the internet for endless different reasons, and this case is another reason for parents to take note.

Yet, with these concerns being so paramount, advertisers must be equally as responsible and carefully monitor where their brand is present and what sort of audience is likely to be faced with these ads.

The report in this week’s bulletin explaining why a study by the Institute of Social Marketing that led to calls for a ban on promoting alcohol on social media sites applies not just to drinks makers, but any brand that risks offending vulnerable audiences.

It is promising that the AA claims its recommendations are a “landmark move for advertising self-regulation seeks to address societal concerns and will increase protection for consumers and children.” But the litmus test will be if the Advertising standards Authority (ASA) can live up to this pledge and crack down on inappropriate advertising.

Rae Burdon, chief operating officer at the AA, says: “Contrary to general understanding, much advertising online is already in remit and there’s a very high level of compliance with the existing rules. There are some complex issues in the remaining space which require careful analysis.”

“The industry has delivered to CAP a clear mandate that first and foremost will protect consumers and children, that will also – crucially – protect editorial content, and that will, if accepted, maintain CAP/ASA’s reputation as a world-class operation. The whole industry has pulled together to make this happen. What’s important now is effective implementation and raising consumer and stakeholder awareness.”

Ultimately, this will be the challenge that the AA and the ASA will have to deal with. But others have to play a part. Content owners must also play a role in really moderating what is happening on their advertising-funded services.

Yes, false identities and biographies are difficult to crack down on. But the signs that are communicated over and over again are there to be found and content owners must play a bigger role in moderating and surveillance. You might say that’s encouraging a surveillance society, but in some cases that simply has to be the way.

It’s encouraging therefore that Facebook has asked the Government for access to data from the sex offenders’ list so it can make sure that no registered sex offenders are on the site.

After all, if advertisers aren’t convinced of the safety of the internet, they will simply pull out and there won’t be a code of practice needed. Let’s just hope the AA find a way of making this as transparent as possible so the internet remains a communications model and not a hub to be afraid of.

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