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This Friday, people at Waverly train station were momentarily treated to another glimpse of the controversial "I ❤️JK Rowling" poster design as four happy women posed with a banner they had printed out and brought there. The original poster was erected by "Standing for women" and removed only a day later on July 29, by media owners Network Rail Scotland, citing its "political nature"
"The poster in question is against our code of acceptance for advertising in our stations owing to its political nature."
Why loving JK Rowling, a beloved globally famous children's book author and Edinburgh resident is "political" has not been explained to Adland despite repeated requests for comments over several communication channels. The Advertising Standards Authority on the other hand has clarified that they have no objections to this poster.
Hi, I can confirm that the ASA are not involved in the decision to remove this poster. Network Rail Scotland has issued a statement outlining that they took the decision to remove the poster themselves.
— ASA (@ASA_UK) July 30, 2020
This temporary stunt was due to the group of Women collecting at Speakers corner in Edinburgh. Susan Smith, Venice Allan, Magi Gibson, Shereen Benjamin, Gillian Philip, Lucy Hunter Blackburn, and Victoria Whitworth were speakers at the event.
"As long as the digital public square is moderated by men, women will not have free speech", Venice Allan stated in her opening talk after telling the crowd she had been banned from Twitter.
It is very clear with what is happening online, with WordPress and Reddit and Twitter banning people for what seems like innocuous comments, off-color jokes, or simple things like naming a person's real sex or name, that we are in a cataclysm of censorship.
Twitter and Wordpress banned women from their platform due to a sordid case in Canada's human rights tribunal filed by Jessica Yaniv https://t.co/zjmCDqcG3u by Dabitch #adland pic.twitter.com/HZnKwULUGa
— adland ® (@adland) July 24, 2019
The speech control exerted by tech companies is not new at all, Reddit was half-heartedly cleaning up jailbait subs in 2012 already. Platforms not owned by you can police what is published on the platform.
But even when you do own the platform, economic factors not owned by you can effectively censor your words. Adland itself has been banned both from Paypal in 2003, and from Adsense several times, most recently for discussing the gory nature of sexist PETA ads. Patreon has a famous clause that things you say and do even off the internet itself can cause you to lose your Patreon account, as happened to Sargon of Akkad.
Why the tech giants ban you is usually because you have committed some form of "hate speech", and as people are now discovering on every side of the political aisle, "hate speech" is a moving target. It's a way of shutting down unwanted discourse, and dissent. It's a way of controlling the narrative. "Free speech" may only be a concept written in the US constitution, there are many limits to speech in most other countries (even in Sweden, despite what their great PR claims), leading to Orwellian-like situations where police investigate tweets, and Math professors have to contact the Free Speech Union for liking a tweet stating ‘All Lives Matter’. With that in mind, it's nice to see people, in this case these women, taking the opportunity to speak at the "speakers corner" where free speech still reigns.
So sad that we are in 2020 and women are again having to gather at Speakers Corner in #Edinburgh to defend our sex based rights in Scotland. Women sacked from their jobs for saying women are adult females. #SexBasedRights @ForwomenScot https://t.co/q88X3w4pP0 pic.twitter.com/JK7gmXouh6
— Dre Henderson (@cnocanview) August 2, 2020
— Women Make Glasgow ??????? (@GlasgowMake) August 2, 2020
Commercial speech, which is advertisements, doesn't fall under the free speech standards in the USA as media companies can and will deny billboards for various reasons of their own choosing, which Adland has reported on countless times since at least 2004.
In that light, it was very interesting to speak with the "Standing for women" founder on the Adland podcast episode eight, where she noted how a media company finds it commercially a better idea to deny an innocuous billboard with either "Woman, noun" or "I ❤️JK Rowling" on it, than let this message stay up.
What makes this the more commercially viable option?
How many media buyers would seriously avoid a media channel, just because they disagreed with a billboard previously housed on that channel?
When adverts get a lot of press, our industry tends to join in with fun, parodies, and sometimes mock the original ad, as happened with the Beach Body Ready campaign. It was hijacked by a BBH team to promote women's world cup, parodied by Lastminute.com, Dove and Carlsberg's "beer body ready". While the ASA ruled the ad "not socially irresponsible", the media storm around this ad made Transport for London (TfL) set up a competition to encourage diversity in ads. Thus in February, Nubian skin won and the beach bodies seen in the London Underground were all wearing skin-tone matching underwear.