Facebook is experiencing an unprecedented halt in their advertising revenue as the ‘Stop Hate For Profit’ campaign gathers momentum and scale.
Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” However, in recent months, the social media giant has been acting in ways that are in direct contravention to this purpose; in fact, it is accused of having contributed to sowing division and discord in the world, all in the name of growth and engagement and regardless of the cost to the society.
On June 17, a group of American civil rights organisations including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change called on businesses to “hit pause on hate” and not advertise on Facebook in July. As the Color of Change website states: “From the monetization of hate speech to discrimination in their algorithms to the proliferation of voter suppression to the silencing of Black voices, Facebook has refused to take responsibility for hate, bias, and discrimination growing on their platforms. And what has allowed Facebook to continue racist practices is the $70B of revenue from corporations every year. Companies have a choice to make about whether they want their businesses featured on Facebook’s platforms side-by-side with racist attacks on Black people.”
Why are the big brands considering to boycott Facebook?
Since Floyd’s death, Facebook has allowed posts in which Trump called protesters “thugs” and suggested violence when he wrote, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided not to take action in removing the content despite requests. Twitter, on the other hand, flagged Trump’s tweets using the same language as “glorifying violence.”
In light of Zuckerberg’s inaction, more than 40 major brands across a variety of industries, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Unilever, Verizon, Ford, Ben & Jerry’s, Denny’s, and The North Face have halted their paid advertising on Facebook — some of them just for the month of July.
In short, companies who have publicly stated support for Black Lives Matter on their social media channels, are now advised to take a long hard look at whether their ad investment are undermining their words by funding a platform which directly contravenes their values.
The list of companies supporting the campaign had swelled to more than 900 as of 6 July.
What is also unprecedented has been digital media agencies like 360i (who have clients like McCormick & Co, Discover Financial Services and Unilever) advising clients to join the boycott.
What is the ‘Stop Hate For Profit’ campaign asking for?
Three simple and actionable requests are being put forward by the campaigners.
- Provide more support to people who are targets of racism and hate by creating a separate moderation pipeline for users who express that they have been targeted because of specific identity characteristics such as race or religion and by creating a threshold of harm on the platform.
- Stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content creating mechanisms that automatically remove all ads from content labelled as misinformation or hate.
- Increase Safety in Private Groups on Facebook by automatically flagging content in private groups associated with extremist ideologies for human review.
How is Facebook responding?
On Tuesday 7th July, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s two top executives, met with civil rights groups in an attempt to mollify them over how the social network treats hate speech on its site. However, the Facebook’s chief executive and the chief operating officer failed to win its critics over.
Ahead of the meeting, the civil rights groups had sent over their list of 10 demands, which included hiring a top executive with a civil rights background, submitting to regular independent audits and updating its community standards, according to a statement from the Free Press advocacy group. Facebook only accepted to hire a top executive with a civil rights background.
As the ad boycott has grown, Facebook executives have taken an increasingly conciliatory tone with advertisers and others. The company has about eight million advertisers whose spending accounts for more than 98 percent of its annual $70.7 billion in revenue.
As part of its response, Facebook said it planned to release the final part of a yearlong audit of its civil rights policies and practices on issues such as hate speech, election interference and algorithmic bias. But the audit is only as good as what Facebook ends up doing with the content.
Participants at the meeting said they were particularly disappointed that no Facebook executive had any specific answer or reply to their list of demands, aside from platitudes.
The leaders of the ad boycott said that beyond Facebook, all social media companies need to do a better job of policing content and defending against hate speech on their platforms. But given that Facebook was the largest social network, they said, it deserved the most scrutiny.
The Facebook campaign against fake news and bias stresses how users should consider three questions when reading news on the platform: “Where’s it from?”, “What’s missing?” And “How did you feel?”. The intention is to promote reliable sources that tell the whole story, without skewing the narrative to encourage a heated emotional response.
The campaign has already sparked further criticism for pushing the work of keeping Facebook safe on to users. This campaign urges users of Facebook to ‘stop, think and check’. Why should Facebook’s users do something which a $500bn corporation refuses to do?
However, despite some of the world’s biggest advertisers signing on to support the boycott, Facebook’s overall revenue is unlikely to have taken a significant hit. This is because the company generates most of its income from the so-called “long tail” – smaller advertisers who make up in number what they lack in individual spending.
So, the saga goes on…