The Facebook Ad Boycott

Before we get started, we want to set an expectation for this piece. This blog isn’t an opinion column, and if it were, we’d tell you. This is an objective look at the Facebook Ad Boycott— a hard news article. We talk about some heavy issues here, but it’s done in a journalistic manner. But with that in mind, we assure you we haven’t turned a blind eye to what’s going on right now in the United States.

It just so happens that the headlines have crossed into our realm. And yes, these are uncomfortable topics, but discomfort like this means growth. It’s a time of learning and transformation. As you read this, keep that in mind. Our intention with this blog is to educate and help you grow. The best way we can contribute to your knowledge and the overarching discussion is to share resources. So here we are, sharing Facebook news in our little corner of the internet

Close Up of Facebook Homepage
Woman's Hands on Acer Laptop Keyboard, Facebook Profile on Screen

As of July 1, many of Facebook’s largest advertisers have paused their campaigns in solidarity with Stop Hate For Profit. This advocacy group was launched by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in partnership with the NAACP, Common Sense Media, and other civil rights organizations. The movement aims to “send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and violence.”

Collectively, these organizations express unease with how Facebook handles misinformation, threats of violence, and hate speech, including its approach to contentious posts from President Trump. The Facebook ad boycott follows the platform’s decision to leave several of the president’s controversial posts.

In the posts, Trump said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” in reference to the Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice and police brutality. He also threatened to use “serious force” if anyone tried to set up an autonomous zone for protestors in Washington, D.C.

In contrast, Twitter removed the same content because it violated its policies against “glorifying violence” by including a threat of harm against an identifiable group. However, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that Facebook would not take action and denied the posts incited violence, which would have violated the platform’s policies.

Companies Who Have Joined the Facebook Ad Boycott

Over 300 companies have signed on to the #StopHateforProfit campaign. Here are a few of the movement’s big players.

  • Adidas
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Boeing
  • Coca-Cola
  • CVS
  • Dunkin
  • Ford
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Hershey
  • Honda
  • KIND
  • Lego
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Microsoft
  • Mozilla
  • The North Face
  • Patagonia
  • Patreon
  • Starbucks
  • Target
  • Unilever
  • Verizon
  • Volkswagen
  • Walgreens
Facebook Ad Boycott Brands

According to ADL, “when it comes to dealing with rampant hate and harassment, the platform continues to come up short.” Despite having 2.6 billion monthly users, Facebook has few restrictions on hateful content in ads, and many loopholes have been found in its Community Standards.

Stop Hate For Profit intends to change that. The organization has provided “clear steps that Facebook could take immediately that would result in real progress.” Among these recommendations are actions to establish a permanent structure for accountability, remove extremist groups from the platform, and create a customer support division to assist individuals with harassment and threats.

“Your ad buying dollars are being used by the platform to increase its dominance in the industry at the expense of vulnerable and marginalized communities who are often targets of hate groups on Facebook.” – An Open Letter to the Companies that Advertise on Facebook

The Facebook Algorithm

Facebook knows it’s engineered to connect users with nefarious content, primarily due to its recommendation algorithms. During a 2018 presentation, Facebook executives were made aware of the issue. “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.”

Without intervention, the Facebook algorithm will push “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform.” In fact, Facebook’s internal research found that “64 percent of all extremist group joins are due to [their] recommendation tools,” with most of that driven by the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms.

According to a story from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook studied the algorithm but then gutted the efforts to fix it. Why? There’s little incentive for Facebook to make changes. These algorithms are designed to keep users online. The longer people are online, the more likely they are to interact with ads. In other words, the more time spent on Facebook, the higher their revenue.

Although Facebook claims it is now effectively addressing hate on its platforms, ADL’s analysts found examples of online harassment, misinformation, and extremism across the company’s products. “Advertisements are running alongside divisive, hateful, and conspiratorial content.” It should also be pointed out that Facebook has repeatedly refused to remove political ads that contain lies, and the platform is slow to take down sponsored conspiratorial content.

“If Facebook doesn’t take visible, measurable, and assertive efforts to effectively prevent the promotion of hate, division, defamation and misinformation by this year’s end— we will feel compelled to evaluate indefinitely suspending our investments in Facebook until they do so.”

– KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky

While the Facebook ad boycott has created a wave of bad press for the company, it’s unlikely to impact their bottom line. In 2019, Facebook made nearly $70 billion in ad revenue, and the majority of that income came from small and medium-sized businesses.

Although hundreds of businesses have paused their ads, Facebook still has over 7 million other active advertisers around the world. According to financial analyst Colin Sebastian, the movement “would have to get hundreds, if not thousands of advertisers to join in order for there to be any real impact.” There are also 83 million business pages who haven’t yet advertised on the platform, so the potential for ad revenue is limitless.

In terms of the company’s revenue stream, the boycott is a small drop in the bucket. However, Facebook’s stock price took a tumble in late June as advertisers announced their involvement with Stop Hate For Profit. This drop sparked Facebook to roll out new measures that address some of the boycotters’ concerns, but not all.

Zuckerberg announced a series of policy changes to flag problematic political posts and expand its policies around hate speech.

Specifically, the new policies will “prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.”

The restrictions are a part of a suite of changes Facebook is making in preparation for the 2020 U.S. elections. Still, these restrictions don’t apply to unpaid posts.

As for the longevity of the movement, the Facebook ad boycott is scheduled through the month of July. Although some companies have suspended their advertisements through the end of the year, Zuckerberg anticipates that revenue will quickly return. In a leaked transcript of an internal Facebook town hall obtained by The Information, Facebook’s CEO is noted saying, “my guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”

The thing is, he might be right. For the cynics out there, it’s important to mention that many companies set their advertising budgets quarterly. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the recent quarter put many companies in the red. Many were looking to reduce their advertising budgets anyway. In theory, they’re saving that money and relieving some of the pressure on their bottom lines.

Looking Forward

We have to ask ourselves, is it a matter of brands using their platform or a convenient way to cut ad spending? Whether or not these companies have altruistic intentions is up for debate. And Facebook’s response is still up in the air too. In the coming months, we’ll revisit this topic to explore how Facebook handles Stop Hate For Profit’s requests. Only time will tell.

Stay current with the Facebook ad boycott.

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