Alphabet meeting: Investors confront Google, YouTube, on volatile risks from online content, fake news

Arjuna Capital proposal at Google calls for detailed report assessing risks to finances, operations, and reputation posed by content governance controversies, including fake news, election interference, hate speech, and violence.

 

SAN FRANCISCO AND DURHAM, NC (June 6, 2018) – Google investors will express serious concerns at the company’s annual shareholder meeting today, warning that failures to enforce its terms of service and mounting online controversies stand in stark contrast to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s 2017 pledge to, “stay one step ahead of bad actors, making it harder for policy-violating content to surface or remain on YouTube.” Lead filer, investment advisory firm Arjuna Capital, and co-filers the New York State Common Retirement Fund, Harrington Investments and Baldwin Brothers Inc., are pressing the parent company, Alphabet, to bring the issue into sharper focus.

The shareholders are calling on Google to produce a detailed report on the impact that fabricated content is having on their platforms and business.

The Alphabet Inc. annual shareholder meeting will be held today, June 6, 2018, at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Arjuna Capital’s shareholder proposal on Google’s content management is available online here: https://arjuna-capital.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Google_Content-Governance-Proposal_Revised.pdf

On May 25, 2018, Arjuna Capital published a letter urging Alphabet shareholders to support a resolution asking the company to provide a report on Content Governance. The memo characterized risks to investors as:  1) Google’s controversies have a direct impact on the Company’s market value, with concerns including ad revenue, data privacy and regulatory risk; 2) Google’s content controversies represent a complex public policy challenge, in terms of the scope of impact, Russian propaganda, and the treat of terrorist content; and 3) Google continues to have a mixed track record of protecting users from election interference, fake news, hate speech, sexual harassment, and violence. The memo argues that full disclosure is needed to address these concerns, and can be found here:  https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326801/000121465918003883/d517180px14a6g.htm

Durham, NC-based Farnum Brown, Ph.D, managing partner, chief strategist, Arjuna Capital said: “Google faces an existential threat in the form of fake news, political hacking, hate speech and online sexual harassment. These digital toxins have polluted our information ecosystem, of which Google is a central part. And yet the Company remains behind the curve in responding to these threats and the dire risks they pose to the Company and its investors. For the second year in a row, we are urging Google to comprehensively assess these volatile risks and spell out a strategy sufficient to mitigate them.”

Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, said: “We witness a new online controversy explode onto the scene almost daily.  Many are disruptive to society and harmful to our democracy, not to mention the business models of the platforms they manipulate.  It’s time Google is held accountable for evaluating the risks that arise when users violate its own terms of service.  The potential harm to the Company’s reputation, finances, and operations can no longer be ignored.  Fake news in particular needs to be addressed.  When fabrication is disseminated so easily at scale, the way we have seen through YouTube, it represents a threat to our democracy. Google must examine recent controversies, and carefully consider the material risks to shareholder value, and the efficacy of current policies.”

Adding weight to Arjuna Capital’s shareholder proposal at Google today, leading proxy advisor Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) recommends support for the resolution as well:

“A vote FOR this proposal is warranted, because a report on assessing the effectiveness of enforcement of content policies could help provide shareholders with valuable information on how well the company is assessing and mitigating content-related controversies.”

The statement from ISS continued:  “…the company does seem to be responding to each content management-related controversy in a reactive way. Shareholders would benefit from additional disclosure reviewing and compiling in one report the efficacy of its enforcement of its terms of service related to content policies, and assessing the risks posed by content management controversies, with statistics on the percentage of content that is flagged as offensive and how that may change over time, how quickly content is removed if it is offensive, or other appropriate quantitative metrics. Therefore this proposal merits shareholder support.”

Last year Arjuna Capital filed shareholder proposals at Facebook and Google pressing for greater transparency and reporting on fake news flows over their platforms.  This year, content goverance proposals were put before Facebook, Twitter, and Google.  Arjuna, and co-filers Proxy Impact and Baldwin Brothers Inc. also have a gender pay equity proposal going to a vote at Google for the third time.

On May 31st, an Arjuna Capital’s content governance and gender pay equity resolutions received independent shareholder support of 30 percent and 29 percent respectively, and on May 30th Arjuna Capital and New York State Common Retirement Fund’s content goverance proposal received support of 36%, which is a good preview of what similar proposals at Google will garner at today’s meeting.


MEDIA CONTACT:  Patrick Mitchell, (703) 276-3266 or pmitchell@hastingsgroup.com.

Arjuna Capital is an investment firm focusing on sustainable and impact investing. In recent years, Natasha Lamb and Arjuna Capital have been recognized for an ongoing campaign using shareholder resolutions to promote gender pay equity in the tech, banking, and retail sectors.  In December Lamb was named to the “Bloomberg 50” list of influencers who defined global business in 2017.  For more information, visit www.Arjuna-Capital.com.

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