You may have noticed that the world is a mess. It is rife with hatred, lies, conspiracy theories, violence and hostility between countries and within countries. It ain’t pretty and it’s getting worse.

One of the factors in the growing polarization is the influence of the internet. I believe the dumbest thing ever said about the web was said by Arianna Huffington. In 2012, Ms. Huffington said…

“Thanks to YouTube — and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails — it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price…”

It’s hard to imagine anyone getting it more wrong.

In fact, social media and search have made it much easier for nuts, nazis, and basement dwelling squids to spread their vitriol and nonsense far and wide. The ugliness is spread in two ways: 1) posts and ads on social media, and 2) search algorithms that ensnare people in a vortex of ever more radical lies and nonsense.

Unless we find a way to unwind this pattern of polarization there is nowhere to go but down.

First let’s talk about remedies that won’t work. We cannot expect Google, Facebook (and their spawn, YouTube and Instagram) or Twitter to do anything serious about these issues. Even though they are the prime repositories of hatred and lies, they are also the prime benefactors.

We cannot expect governments to do anything. They are too stupid, inept and politically self-absorbed.

Believe it or not, there is one group that can do something seriously effective in combatting this scourge — the ad industry. The search and social media companies have only one source of revenue, ad dollars. If the ad industry were to withdraw their ad dollars, two of the most profitable and dangerous companies in the world, Google and Facebook, would evaporate in five minutes.

Here’s the plan. I call it The Ten Week Plan. The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies) get together and tell Google and Facebook the following:

1) We’re giving you 90 days to clean up your act. Get rid of the hate content, get rid of the ugliness and incitements to violence, hire enough people to fact-check posts properly before you publish them, change your algorithms so they don’t draw people down the sewer of hatred.

2) After 90 days, if you haven’t cleaned it up satisfactorily we’re going to implement a 10-week program to force you to do it. Week one we will ask our members to reduce their spend with you by 10%. If this doesn’t convince you, on week two we will ask them to reduce their spending with you by another 10%. This will continue until you either change or die.

The ad industry has allowed Google and Facebook to take all the hits for the disgusting state of search and social. But we are the money machine that funds it all. We are the paymasters and we can use our power to do some good for a change.

We can accomplish with our dollars what governments can’t with all their yapping. We have been on the wrong side of every issue related to online corruption. With one stroke, we can atone for our mistakes and seize the high ground. Let’s see if our industry, which gags on “brand purpose” horseshit, can actually demonstrate some brand purpose. All it would take is the one thing we don’t have — integrity. Okay, two things, and balls.

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About Author

Bob Hoffman

Bob Hoffman is creator of the popular “The Ad Contrarian” blog and newsletter, named one of the world's most influential marketing and advertising blogs by Business Insider

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