Vodafone today announced new global rules intended to prevent its advertising from appearing within outlets focused on creating and sharing hate speech and fake news. The update to the Group's existing policy on advertising transparency and integrity is set out below. The new rules – which are now in effect – include Vodafone's definition of hate speech and fake news for the purposes of determining whether or not a particular outlet should carry Vodafone advertising. There is no change to Vodafone's policy on network access to the outlets in question.

Background: the digital advertising market

Over the last decade, the rapid growth of digital advertising has provided major brands such as Vodafone with extensive opportunities to engage directly with consumers and businesses online. More recently, the advertising industry and digital advertising providers such as Google and Facebook have developed automated advertising technologies that use algorithms to deliver digital advertising to targeted demographic categories of internet user, serving ads dynamically within individual websites and social media channels as those users browse.

While automated advertising is a powerful tool – allowing advertisers to focus their investment on specific market segments across almost all digital properties – in a small minority of instances it can also lead to unintended and potentially harmful outcomes including advertising appearing next to offensive content. Additionally, automated advertising technologies can have the effect of generating revenue for outlets focused on hate speech and fake news.

Advertisers such as Vodafone therefore risk their brands being marketed within outlets that are fundamentally at odds with their values and beliefs as a company while inadvertently providing a source of funding for those outlets.

Vodafone Group Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said: "Hate speech and fake news threaten to undermine the principles of respect and trust that bind communities together. Vodafone has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion; we also greatly value the integrity of the democratic processes and institutions that are often the targets of purveyors of fake news. We will not tolerate our brand being associated with this kind of abusive and damaging content."