A building chorus of dissenting voices from well heeled and carefully researched corporate ad buyers
The Facebook ad boycott has been going on for several weeks now, as more and more companies are abstaining from promoting content on the social media website until it makes greater amends to eliminate hate speech on its platform. At first, many expected that the boycott would not be enough to spark real change. After all, only about a hundred companies are engaged in it, and Facebook hosts over 8 million advertisers. However, now that a few key players have joined the movement, Facebook is facing palpable financial and PR consequences, heralding an indirect response.
Companies started to boycott ads on Facebook earlier this month, as civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense criticized the site for providing a platform for racist and bigoted content. These groups were particularly critical of Facebook failing to censor President Trump‘s inflammatory post regarding the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death. In the post, Trump stated, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” endorsing a hateful rhetoric riddled with dark precedents.
Facebook was defensive of allowing Trump’s post go unedited at first, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg playing the free-speech card that has kept Facebook relatively unaccountable in the past for the mounds of unsavory content plastered on the site.
Now, however, Facebook is waking up to a significant hit to the wallet.
Major ad contributors have joined the boycott against Facebook including Verizon, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and dozens upon dozens more, with most making a statement that they will abstain from advertising on Facebook through the summer or until the site changes its methods. It is part of a movement titled “Stop Hate For Profit,” targeted at companies that make money off of bigotry.
Money matters, apparently, particularly big, big sums
As mentioned above, the companies who have joined the movement are but a drop in Facebook’s ocean of advertisers. Nevertheless, amidst the boycott and all of the negative PR Facebook has acquired as a result, the site’s stock price has dropped significantly. On Friday, June 26th, its stock went down more than 8%, representing a loss $56 billion in market value for the company. Even for a company like Facebook, that is not exactly chump-change.
Non-coincidentally, later that same day, Zuckerberg released a statement outlining Facebook’s plans to be more proactive about censoring content on the website. In a thirteen minute video and accompanying post, the CEO explained that going forward, Facebook will be making more efforts to ensure that all users feel safe on the website. This includes prohibiting ads that target or demean certain demographics, making it more apparent when content is or is not deemed “newsworthy,” and increasing security for content related to the upcoming election, flagging hoax videos and removing the spread of misinformation.
A long list of convictions and potential crimes is beginning to mount
The larger question exists as to why now, after facebook’s lax and predatory behaviors are well known and documented, suddenly these major advertisers have woken to the urgency of change? BLM and antitrust, along with a long list of highly critical investigative reports from major news over a period of years, might just be building into a tsunami of anti-facebook sentiment too big to ignore.
It was Facebook’s complacency with spreading misinformation during the 2016 Election—as well as the Cambridge Analytica privacy breeches— that instigated the website’s fall from grace nearly four years ago. Since then, Facebook among other big-tech labels have been the subject of greater criticism for their role in politics, culture, and public discourse.
While Zuckerberg’s latest video feels more substantial than most of his responses to criticism. It attempts to off some possible real solutions to the problems rather than just hollow suggestions or distractive rebranding techniques. Still, many are not satisfied, hoping that Facebook will focus more on removing all hateful content rather than simply flagging it, or adjusting its corporate allegiances so they stop selling data to or providing a platform for institutions that aim to disenfranchise people.
As the boycott continues, perhaps Facebook’s response will grow more progressive, but Zuck and his company continue to toe that delicate line between upholding freedom of speech and quelling unambiguously offensive content. Likewise, it will be interesting to see what the boycotters do in the coming months. Facebook is a crucial advertising platform for most of these corporations. By the end of the summer, will they start using the site again, or will they continue to hold out until greater change comes about?
To endorse the former would seem like a sellout, like the entire boycott was but a disingenuous gesture. However, to carry on with the boycott indefinitely begs the question of how much Facebook needs to adjust itself before returning to the public’s (as well as other business’) good graces.
Ultimately, the question is whether real change is finally coming; for us all to have a choice of more than a single, solitary option for our social media network (facebook), search engine (google) or eCommerce destination (amazon).
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