A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 23, 2020

Major Brands Launch Facebook Boycott Over Lies and Hate. Will It Matter?

Five outdoor clothing brands are unlikely to move the needle. But if Facebook continues to permit egregious behavior, the pressure is likely to grow. JL

Cat Zakrzewski reports in the Washington Post:

Major brands are temporarily boycotting advertising on Facebook to protest the company’s handling of hate speech and disinformation. At least five companies have signed onto the #StopHateForProfit boycott. Facebook generated $70 billion in advertising revenue in 2019, as the company faced global criticism for allowing politicians to lie. That's up 27% from 2018. (But) rights activists don't think the the company will change unless it starts to feel financial pressure to do so.
Major brands are temporarily boycotting advertising on Facebook to protest the company’s handling of hate speech and disinformation. 
At least five companies, including retailers such as The North Face and freelance website Upwork, have signed onto the #StopHateForProfit boycott. They’re responding to a call from civil rights groups including the NAACP to pull spending for the month of July to protest the lack of progress Facebook has made in addressing hostile activity on its platform. 
So far, Facebook's missteps and scandals have had little impact on its bottom line. 
Civil rights activists don't think the the company will change its policies unless it starts to feel financial pressure to do so. The company's revenue has only grown in recent years – even as it has been engulfed in a series of scandals since revelations of Russia's broad 2016 campaign to divide American voters on its platform. 
Facebook generated nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue in 2019, as the company faced global criticism for allowing politicians to lie on its platform and for mishandling user privacy. That's up 27 percent from 2018, when the company had $55 billion in ad sales. 
Pressure is mounting for more brands to join. 
Shortly after The North Face’s announcement, Patagonia and REI also said they would boycott advertising on Facebook, underscoring how one company’s move can have a domino effect on competitors. 
“From secure elections to a global pandemic to racial justice, the stakes are too high to sit back and let the company continue to be complicit in spreading disinformation and fomenting fear and hatred," Patagonia said in a statement to The Technology 202. “As companies across the country work hard to ensure that Americans have access to free and fair elections this fall, we can’t stand by and contribute resources to companies that contribute to the problem.”
At least one major advertising agency, 360i, has advised clients to support the boycott, the Wall Street Journal first reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also told advertisers last week they have “tremendous leverage” to force the social network to crack down on disinformation. 
“Advertisers are in a position, they have power to discourage platforms from amplifying dangerous and even life-threatening disinformation,” she said at a conference
But the campaign has its limits. 
So far, most of the advertisers have only committed to limiting advertising for one month. Many major brands have yet to say whether they will participate, and the boycotting companies so far are just a small sliver of the many advertisers on the platform. 
Facebook has made major investments to improve its systems and teams rooting out racism, health disinformation and other harmful content since the fallout of the 2016 election. 
But the company’s recent decisions to take little action against posts from President Trump that appear to violate its policies have escalated tensions with civil rights leaders and Democrats. The company did not act on a  Trump post saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which Twitter flagged for violating its policies on glorifying violence. 
“We deeply respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information,” Carolyn Everson, vice president of the global business group at Facebook, said in a statement. “Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.” 
The North Face was the first major brand to announce it was stopping all advertising on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, effective June 19. Steve Lesnard, the company’s global vice president of marketing, spoke to me about the decision. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity: 
Technology 202: What led The North Face to make this decision to pull advertising? 
Lesnard: We're living in a cultural moment of pain, and we believe at The North Face that normal is is not good enough. We all need to drive positive change immediately. So over the last few months, we've all been shaken up a bit and we feel like action always speaks louder than the words.
When we saw that call to action, we felt like The North Face could really help and fuel and lead that movement by halting all paid advertising on Facebook in the hopes to inspire them to reconsider their policies for stricter rules on hate speech and on racist rhetoric. It’s really a natural extension of the stance that we’ve been taking. And we feel like we need to drive positive change immediately. 
Technology 202: Were there specific Facebook decisions that you disagreed with? 
Lesnard: The decision was not focused specifically on one incident, but rather around overall policy. We’ve seen too much hate speech or racist rhetoric that was on the platform. And we really hope that Facebook will adopt stricter rules and policies moving forward. 
Technology 202: If the company doesn’t adopt stricter rules, will you resume advertising in August? 
Lesnard: We will reconsider in the next 30 days. We are joining the movement as a global brand, and we invite other brands to join and push Facebook to reconsider. We will closely monitor and reevaluate within 30 days. 
Technology 202: You’ve mentioned you’re hoping other brands join the movement as well. Do you think this will be a turning point in the advertising industry? 
Lesnard: We certainly hope so. We all need to drive positive change immediately. We hope these actions that we've taken are going to help drive a healthy dialogue and immediate action as well. 
Technology 202: How much does The North Face typically spend on Facebook and Instagram ads in a given month? 
Lesnard: We are not able to share detailed information, but what I can tell you is that Facebook is one of the two largest media partners for The North Face. They're a really important media partner of ours for all of our communication. 
Technology 202: How are you changing your advertising strategy? Are you shifting some of that spend to Google or other tech platforms?
Lesnard: Absolutely. We have a really strong community and network of consumers on other platforms as well that we're going to leverage.


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