Over the past few weeks, we've seen global brands like Coca-Cola and Unilever pull ads from Facebook. As days go by, more companies are joining the scene—joining the #StopHateForProfit campaign.
So what exactly is happening, and why are brands pulling ads from Facebook?
When and how did all this begin?
Back in May, US President Donald Trump tweeted a statement which included the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts". A Facebook post with the same statement was also made few hours later from the President's official Facebook account. The phrase, quoted above, has been linked to a number of occasions in the past where it was used to bully, and call out the Black community. One case suggests that this statement was made by a Miami police chief in 1967 while addressing a policy which would see tougher policing across black neighbourhoods.
Twitter was quick to respond to this issue as they flagged Trump's tweet for glorifying violence, and decided to hide the Tweet almost immediately (the Tweet is still accessible for public interest, and is accompanied by a warning highlighting the fact that it glorifies violence).
Facebook, on the other hand, allowed the post to stay on, and didn't bother labelling it with any sort of warning. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg later addressed this issue stating that the only reason the post was allowed to stay on was because it had referenced to the deployment of the National Guard, and that the people needed to know about the actions the government was planning to take.
Of course, Zuckerberg's statement had very little effect on the general masses as people lashed out at Facebook for their negligence in this matter. This is nothing new to Facebook. They've been called out multiple times by the general public for their incompetence in combating hate speech and racism, as well as for breach of their users' privacy. This time, however, the case is a bit different.
With the #BlackLivesMatter movement heating up, and more people taking to the streets and standing up for their rights, Facebook's negligence regarding these matters haven't gone unnoticed. Over the years, people have watched Facebook promote content that supports hate speech, white supremacists, controversies, and other things that can lead to violence and all sorts of uncivilised behaviour from certain groups of people in the US. There's also the case of Facebook's involvement in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
All these things lead us here to the present, where human rights groups are voicing their concerns over Facebook's recent actions and behaviour, and this time, global brands have joined the fight.
Who are spearheading the boycott?
The call to boycott advertising on Facebook, which is better known as the "Stop Hate for Profit" campaign, is being led by different non-government and civil rights organisations including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), Sleeping Giants, Free Press, and Common Sense. These organisations sent a joint open letter to companies advertising on Facebook, asking them to pause their spending on ads from July.
The organisations believe that Facebook isn't doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation, hate speech, racism, and other controversial content. With the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, they're hoping to send Facebook a clear message by hitting them where it hurts the most—their wallets.
Why are brands complying with the campaign?
Brands that advertise on Facebook or Instagram don't get to choose where, or under what type of content, their ads will appear. It's more of an arbitrary process handled by Facebook's algorithm than a handpicked selection by the companies or anyone at Facebook. As a result, these ads can appear anywhere; more recently, many of these ads have been accompanying the controversial content that Facebook is reluctant to take down. This makes it look as if the brands were deliberately promoting such content, whereas in reality, they're unaware as to where and when their ads are to appear.
The fact that Facebook allows such content to stay on the platform, and are allocating ads for them is of great concern to these companies. Hence, many of these brands that are running ads on Facebook have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign in unison with these organisations, and have decided to pause their ads on the platform.
Which brands have already pulled ads from Facebook?
Some of the brands that have already paused advertising, or have limited their advertising spending for the current year on Facebook and/or Instagram are Ben & Jerry's, Coca-Cola, Dashlane, Eileen Fisher, Hershey's, Honda, Levi Strauss, Patagonia, The North Face, Upwork, Unilever, Verizon, and Starbucks. It is to be noted that some of these brands, like Coca-Cola, have stated that they're not officially joining the boycott, and are just pausing their ads.
At the time of writing this article, it is being reported that beverage giants Pepsi is planning to take part in the boycott as well.
Is Twitter experiencing similar backlash?
Although many of the brands have pulled ads from Twitter as well, the organisations running the Stop Hate for Profit campaign are more focused on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. To them, and many others, Facebook is more reluctant to take down these controversial posts compared to Twitter.
However, Twitter too has been called out in the past for their negligence in stopping the spread of such hateful content. Despite bringing changes to their policies and putting up new measures to prevent promoting hateful or politically motivated content, people believe that they too are not doing enough.
What is Facebook's response to all that's happening?
As has happened after every backlash they've received, Facebook says that it's "working on its policy," and that it in no way supports the violent or controversial content it's been accused of promoting. Apart from the reviewers who handle problematic posts, Facebook is currently building an independent Oversight Board, that'll have the authority to overturn the company's moderation decisions "without paying heed to Facebook's political, economic, or reputation interests."
However, the board is currently not operational, and it will be some time before they reach that capability.
Will the boycott help?
Losing advertisers can cause a huge blow to Facebook. On 27 June, it was reported that Mark Zuckerberg, lost around USD 7 billion in personal wealth, after companies started pulling ads out. When Unilever pulled their ads, the company saw their market value drop by USD 56 billion. This is what the ad boycott is doing—it's making Facebook lose money, which people believe is the only way to get the platform to listen, and overhaul their existing policies on what's being posted and promoted on it.
As to whether or not this boycott will bear fruit, only time can tell.
How does the boycott affect us—the users and consumers?
Over the years, people, especially the youth, have used platforms like Facebook and Instagram to talk about different socio-political issues. From getting the word out to the world, to organising mass protests, we've seen people turn towards social media platforms whenever they felt the urge to reach out to a wider audience. Even recently we've seen how protestors are using Facebook and Instagram to portray the brutality shown by the police in the US during the #BlackLivesMatter protests.
However, the fact that Facebook doesn't play its part in stopping the spread of hate speech, or doesn't bother to take down posts that are offensive, promote violence, or are just plain racist, is very concerning. After all, you can't do much to stop racism or hate speech on a platform that actually promotes it. Hence, there might come a time when we have to move away from Facebook and any other social media platform that doesn't do its part in combating such problematic content.
As for our local advertisers, it can be assumed that they're not going to get themselves involved in the political matters of the US. International brands that are operating in our country are likely to leave the decision of advertisement to their regional headquarters. Take the case of Hindustan Unilever in India (a subsidiary of Unilever), where a spokesperson stated that the decision of Unilever to boycott Facebook applies only to the US, and not to their regional subsidiary. Based on this decision, we can, for now, assume that similar steps might be taken for other such brands operating in Bangladesh.
The most important takeaway from this boycott should be the fact that a lot of the content you see on Facebook isn't necessarily valid, or acceptable to the general public. As it seems, anyone can publish this type of content and get away with it. Ads accompanying these posts will make it even harder to question the legitimacy of the content, and Facebook's Fact Checker may not always be there to the rescue.
Whether it's a conspiracy theory, or a video that promotes violence or racial hatred, it'll eventually be our responsibility to cross-check the claims they make through their content before we take them to be accurate.
1. Vox, May 29, 2020. The racist history of Trump's "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" tweet.
2. Anti-Defamation League, June 25, 2020. An Open Letter to the Companies that Advertise on Facebook.
3. The Daily Mail, May 30, 2020. Mark Zuckerberg explains why Facebook left up Trump's controversial post.
4. CNBC, June 3, 2020. Facebook's new Oversight Board.
5. CNN, June 29, 2020. List of companies pulling ads from Facebook.
6. The Print, India, June 27, 2020. Unilever's Facebook ad boycott only applies to US, won't affect Indian subsidiary HUL.
Faisal wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. To survive university is his real test, to graduate is his cause. Send him memes and motivation at email@example.com