Google needs to be candid about its role as publisher: News Corp head

News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said Google and Facebook need to step up in their roles as publishers.

Robert Thomson speaking at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center last night.
Robert Thomson speaking at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center last night.

Google needs to embrace its role as a publisher the face of the controvery over ads appearing next to extremist content on YouTube, News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson told an audience in Hong Kong last night. 

Speaking at his talk entitled The Fake, The Faux, The Facts, The Future, held at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center Wednesday, Thomson said Google and Facebook have not inherited the traditional role of being a publisher despite the Silicon Valley-based companies being the most powerful publishers in human history.

"Google has been reactive in their response to controversy, and you do wonder whether they will start to invest more and frankly be more candid about their role as a publisher," said Thomson. "They claim to be a technology company, and that absolves them of any responsibility of what they publish."

The UK government and advertisers pulled ads from YouTube, the Google-owned video platform last week following a report by The Times of London which said brands are unwittingly funding extremist activities. Havas Group UK paused ad spending on Google and YouTube after client ads appeared next to the questionable content.

"There’s no doubt that certain digital advertising on Google and Facebook work very well, no one is questioning that," Thomson said. "(But) the scale of their influence, the mis-sold perception of perfect reach, these things will play themselves out."

Stressing that the situation is about more than just embarassment for advertisers, Thomson said ad agencies have a role to play, as they have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity.

"Until very recently, these agencies have not properly informed their clients about the potential consequences of advertising in the twilight zone of Google and Facebook," said Thomson. 

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