How the World’s Biggest Brands Seek to Control Online Speech

Washington, DC…Today, the House Judiciary Committee released an interim staff report titled, “GARM’s Harm: How the World’s Biggest Brands Seek to Control Online Speech.” This report details how large corporations, advertising agencies, and industry associations through the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and specifically its Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) initiative participated in boycotts and coordinated action to demonetize platforms, podcasts, news outlets, and other content that GARM and its members deem disfavored.

Although GARM claims not to impact content moderation policies, or the rules that dictate what content can appear online, the Committee’s investigation shows that GARM’s efforts are aimed at removing and defunding certain content and voices, including:

  • GARM directed its members to boycott Twitter after Elon Musk acquired the company. Although Rob Rakowitz, the leader of GARM, denied having done so in his transcribed interview before the Committee, a GARM member documented discussions about the boycott, noting that the company had pulled advertisements from Twitter based on GARM’s recommendations.
  • GroupM, a GARM Steer Team member, attempted to pressure Spotify into censoring Joe Rogan due to his views on the COVID-19 vaccine. GroupM even asked Spotify how it could reconcile being a member of GARM with its stance against misinformation and threatened to halt advertising across Spotify if the platform did not take action against Joe Rogan.
  • Unilever, a GARM Steer Team member, sought to have a Trump campaign ad flagged as misinformation, aiming to effectively remove the ad from the platform. Facebook, however, maintains a policy of not fact-checking political candidates to ensure Americans can see speech from elected officials and hold them accountable. GARM’s founder criticized this policy of transparency as “honestly reprehensible.”
  • GARM documents obtained by the Committee show an anti-conservative bias that permeates GARM’s board of directors, known as its Steer Team. When discussing conservative media outlets such as The Daily WireFox News, and Breitbart, employees from GroupM stated that they hated those outlets’ ideology and even discussed placing these outlets on GroupM’s exclusion lists.
The information uncovered to date regarding WFA and GARM’s collusive conduct in demonetizing disfavored content is alarming. The Committee will continue its investigation into companies involved in this conduct to inform potential legislative reforms.

Read the full interim staff report here. Read the report’s appendix here.


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