A New Brand Of Shareholder Activism At Omnicom

Powerful investors are known for tackling gender wage gaps or unconscious bias, but hate speech is new.

Shareholder activism is taking up a new cause in the technology field: the fight against misinformation. Powerful investors are known for tackling gender wage gaps or unconscious bias, but hate speech is new. The idea originated from Open MIC, a not-for-profit group that works with shareholders of media and technology companies. Open MIC convinced the Nathan Cummings Foundation, an Omnicom shareholder, to file a resolution asking the advertising giant to investigate the placement of digital ads on sites that spread misinformation: Did money spent by advertisers inadvertently help spread disinformation, further white supremacist activity, or promote voter suppression? The resolution was issued in November and went largely unnoticed until the US Capitol siege on January 6.

The targeting of Omnicom is new. Usually, activist shareholders call out Facebook, Google or Twitter. This time, Open MIC prefers to challenge Omnicom, a behind-the-scenes giant which manages $38 billion a year for its conglomerate clients such as Disney and Apple. Omnicom and its customers claim they have no intention of patronizing or enabling right-wing conspirators, and that many of their ads are automatically placed through algorithms. Still, according to NewsGuard analysis, after  October more than 1,600 brands ran ads on 160 websites that published misinformation about the presidential election. “It is past time that major advertisers acknowledged the [passive] support they give to these platforms and act to end it,” says Laura Campos, director of Corporate and Political Accountability at the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

The resolution will be put to a vote in the spring during Omnicom’s annual shareholders’ meeting. While this type of proposal isn’t binding, it can produce publicity, especially if other shareholders were to join the fight. Omnicom knows the impact of bad publicity all too well. Last July, Omnicom launched the Council on Accountable Social Advertising. Its mission: to introduce accountability and transparency in digital advertising. Nevertheless, these self-regulating advertising industry efforts will likely not be enough to roll back the reach of right-wing outlets such as Infowars and Newsmax.