By Marcus Honesta
It’s spreading like Covid-19 in the USA. Major multinational companies including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Verizon and Unilever have joined forces to boycott Facebook ads, saying the company doesn’t do enough to remove hate speech.
A growing list of companies have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign by vowing to pause their ads on Facebook for the month of July.
To date more than 160 companies have pulled their spending so far, but is it enough to force Facebook’s hand to make significant change?
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign was launched by organisations Free Press and Common Sense, along with US civil rights groups Colour of Change, Anti-Defamation League and NAACP after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Among its goals is to put public and financial pressure on Facebook to stop generating ad revenue from hateful content, and it believes the best way to do that is to hit Facebook where it hurts: the profit margin.
The campaign says it’s taking action against “Facebook’s long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform”.
The major question is; is the boycott having any impact on Facebook?
It’s hard to say just yet, but there are a few things to consider.
On Friday,26th June, Facebook’s market value dropped by more than 8 per cent, amounting to about $72 billion.
So it’s fair to say investors are sending Facebook a strong message.
But to give it some context, last year Facebook generated nearly $120 billion in advertising sales.
About a quarter of that comes from big companies such as Unilever, but the vast majority comes from small businesses.
And while Unilever committed to pause its US spending on Facebook for the rest of the year, that only accounts for about 10 per cent of its overall estimated $250 million it spends on Facebook advertising annually, according to Richard Greenfield from media and tech research firm LightShed Partners.
Another key consideration is that as more companies pause their spending, some (such as actor Sacha Baron Cohen) have pointed out that the platform’s biggest spenders haven’t budged.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson acknowledged June 26 that the company has “more work to do.”
“We’ll continue to work with civil rights groups, GARM [Global Alliance for Responsible Media] and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight,” the company continued in its statement. By the end of the day on Friday, Facebook announced that it would label politicians’ posts that violated its rules.
In announcing their commitments to the campaign, these advertisers did not disclose how much money those spends represented in their broader marketing budget or whether they would continue to still use the company’s ability to target its users on third-party properties with the Facebook Audience Network (FAN), unless otherwise noted below.
In addition, some companies, like Unilever, only adjusted ad spends in the U.S. and some only removed ads from Facebook and not sister company Instagram.
Stop Hate for Profit has drawn support from a fast-growing list of major US companies. Organisers are now preparing to take the campaign global.
These are some of the companies that have paused their advertising in some capacity:
- Coffee chain Starbucks (although it says its decision is not part of the campaign)
- Unilever, the European consumer-goods giant behind Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Dove soap, and Lipton tea (it has only pulled US ads)
- Mobile phone company Verizon
- Outdoor apparel and equipment companies Patagonia, Arc’teryx, the North Face, JanSport, Eddie Bauer and REI
- Recruitment company Upwork
- Film company Magnolia Pictures
- Password manager Dashlane
- Honda’s US division (like Unilever, it has also only pulled US ads)
- Jeans maker Levi Strauss
- Clothing designer Eileen Fisher
In what appears to be almost a little too late on Friday, just hours after Unilever said it would pull its ads, Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company would begin labelling newsworthy content that violates its policies in the lead-up to November’s US elections.
He also said it would label all posts and advertisements about voting with links to accurate information.
On Sunday, the company acknowledged it had more work to do, saying it was teaming up with civil rights groups and experts to develop more tools to fight hate speech.
But it said its investments in artificial intelligence have allowed it to find 90 per cent of hate speech before users report it.