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The Facebook Advertising Boycott: 5 Questions Answered

July 9, 2020 Sarah Cavill

The boycott of paid advertising to Facebook, Instagram and other Facebook brands, started by Stop Hate For Profit in June, has grown faster than even organizers expected. The recent racial justice protests, coronavirus mismanagement and the upcoming election inspired the launch of the boycott, and likely influenced the more than 400 brands that have committed to pause or stop advertising on the social media platform. Here’s a quick explainer of the boycott and Facebook’s response.

Who Started The Movement To Boycott Facebook?

The Stop Hate For Profit boycott of Facebook was organized by a group of “civil rights and advocacy groups” including Color of Change, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Common Sense Media, National Hispanic Media Center and others. From the Stop Hate For Profit website, “Stop Hate for Profit is a diverse and growing coalition that wants Facebook to take common-sense steps to address the rampant racism, disinformation and hate on its platform.” 

Which Advertisers Have Committed To Boycotting Facebook?

Shutterstock_558278971 OXFORD, UK - JANUARY 17th 2017: Facebook logo printed onto paper. Facebook is a popular social media service founded in 2004

More than 400 brands have committed to suspending or scaling back advertising to Facebook and Instagram for the month of July. The heavy hitters include Unilever, Adidas, Pfizer and Volkswagen among many others. “Hate and dangerous online misinformation should not go unchecked,” said Volkswagen Group of America. “We expect our advertising partners to reflect our values, and Volkswagen — as well as other companies — must hold them to the same standards we demand of ourselves.”

The boycott comes at an interesting time, when multiple crises are colliding, and consumers expect brands to take stands and not stay silent. Moves by advertisers to boycott Facebook are likely done for a number of reasons, including aligning with the shared values of consumers and offering relief at a time when budgets are getting a once over because of revenue losses during the pandemic. In fact, the Facebook boycott can be a double win for advertisers looking to make an impact and reduce media spend.

What Are The Next Stops For The Facebook Boycott?

“I will admit, we did not expect that this would take off to this extent so quickly with so many of the most important advertisers in the United States and globally joining in,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media. “It just shows that they are frustrated, too, and that they share our concerns about democratic norms, about civic discourse and about what's going on Facebook and Instagram.” 

Stop Hate For Profit has a 10 point plan that they would like to see Facebook execute, based on the principles of accountability, decency and support. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has met with the advocacy group and has begun to make some changes to the platform.

How Is Facebook Responding To The Boycott?

Facebook is responding to the boycott through a number of ways. Although Facebook asserts that their automated systems remove 90% of hate speech, they are taking actions to clean up the remaining 10%. Since the Facebook boycott was announced, the social media platform has been taking steps to remove “hundreds of accounts, groups and pages that it said were connected to the far-right extremist ‘boogaloo movement,’” according to NPR. And, stemming from ongoing meetings and calls with advertisers, Facebook has agreed to an external audit of brand safety that could help the platform prevent things like ads appearing alongside untrue or harmful content.

Mark Zuckerberg, who regularly argues against removing dishonest or distorted content, recently announced a tweak to the policy that will still allow what Facebook deems newsworthy content, but with a caveat. Zuckerberg explained, “We'll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what's acceptable in our society but we'll add a prompt to tell people that the content they're sharing may violate our policies.” 

The amended policies will also “…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. We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.”

Is The Facebook Boycott Having An Impact?

The Facebook boycott has generated a lot of chatter and press coverage, and some would argue that the changes Facebook has instituted are progress. However, the financial impact on Facebook is actually small. USA Today recently looked at data around the brands that are boycotting and found that, “Of the advertisers that announced Facebook boycotts as of Tuesday [June 30], only 13 were in the top 1,000 spenders on Facebook ads in the U.S. for Jan. 1 through June 27. Those advertisers – including Pfizer, Microsoft and Unilever – accounted for less than 3% of the more than $4 billion spent on Facebook U.S. ads during that period.”

Facebook relies primarily on small and medium sized advertisers that can’t afford more expensive channels. Additionally, Facebook believes that the big advertisers will eventually come back. Many of the boycotting brands had already scaled back their advertising prior to the boycott anyway, so walking away was less of a risk than it could have been.

The bigger, ongoing issue for Facebook could be in brand perception. “Do I think that the current crisis is one that potentially dooms Facebook? The answer is no,” said David Yoffie, Professor at Harvard Business School. However, Yoffie added, the “longer-term danger to Facebook is that Mark’s position on content curation is ultimately going to seriously impact the brand.” 

Moving forward, advertisers and digital marketers will have to weigh the benefits of the traction they gain from advertising on Facebook versus the potential impact they can have through boycott participation. The answer may lie in brands not putting all their advertising eggs in one basket, and instead creating multichannel marketing strategies that offer multiple opportunities for successful customer acquisition and revenue generation.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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