Over the past few days, one big name advertiser after another has come out and confirmed that they will no longer be giving Facebook any advertisements. At least for the time being. That potentially means millions in advertising revenue lost for the social media company. This comes as part of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign in an attempt to protest Facebook’s perceived failure at controlling, curbing and eliminating hate speech on the social platforms that it owns, including Facebook and Instagram. At this time, Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks, Coca Cola, Unilever, Diageo, Honda, Levi’s, Mozilla, Pepsi, The North Face, The Hershey Company, Viber and Verizon are just some of the global brands on a revolt list that is growing by the day.
The Stop Hate For Profit campaign was set up after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, something that was captured on video. Facebook had probably seen this revolt coming, but the measures Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook announced, clearly aren’t enough. At the time, Facebook had said that it would prohibit any and all hate speech in advertisements on the platform and also restrict posts that protects vulnerable groups from attacks on social media, such as immigrants. Facebook also said they would label posts that violate its content moderation policies—yet these posts would remain visible on the network.
The Stop Hate For Profit isn’t at best pleased. “Faced with this tidal wave, Mark Zuckerberg responded today with a small number of small changes. He stated that Facebook would apply their hate policy to ads as if it was some new revelation, while not addressing hate more broadly in groups and posts. Voter misinformation may be a bit harder to spread the day of the election (but still will run rampant the rest of the time). And posts that call for violence will still be allowed if they come from someone “newsworthy” but they will now be labeled. None of this will be vetted or verified - or make a dent in the problem on the largest social media platform on the plane,” they say in an official statement. The organizers also point to how Facebook named Breitbart News a “trusted news source” and made The Daily Caller a “fact checker” despite both publications having records of working with known white nationalists.
This circles us back to the whole issue of what really is freedom of speech and what really is public interest. A few weeks ago, Twitter tried to take the high ground by labeling some posts by US President Donald Trump for misinformation. Yet, for a social network to take high ground by saying they have suddenly started to pretend to put their house in order, is a bit rich.
The advertiser revolt is hurting Facebook a lot as far as the money bit is concerned. At the end of trading on Friday, Facebook stocks were down 8%. When markets reopen Monday, the shares are expected to trade at $212.50, down from $235 on Thursday. Estimates are that it has wiped out around $56 billion from Facebook’s market value. Facebook had clocked $17.7 billion in advertising revenue in the previous quarter.
The revolt against Facebook is also dragging other social media platforms, including Twitter, Snap, TikTok and YouTube, into the debate. It is absolutely not to say that these social media platforms are immune to criticism, because they must take their own share of the blame for letting hate speech flourish on their networks—Twitter allowing tweets that bordered on hate speech from politicians, for years, is an example.
The latest to join the advertiser revolt is Starbucks, which makes its reasons for pulling all the advertisements and the millions that go with it, from Facebook and in fact, all social media platforms. “We believe in bringing communities together, both in person and online, and we stand against hate speech. We believe more must be done to create welcoming and inclusive online communities, and we believe both business leaders and policy makers need to come together to affect real change,” they say. “We will pause advertising on all social media platforms while we continue discussions internally, with our media partners and with civil rights organizations in the effort to stop the spread of hate speech,” says Starbucks.
One of the largest advertisers on the planet, Unilever has also confirmed that it will not give any advertising to social media networks. “We have taken the decision to stop advertising on @Facebook, @Instagram & @Twitter in the US. The polarized atmosphere places an increased responsibility on brands to build a trusted & safe digital ecosystem. Our action starts now until the end of 2020,” they say. Unilever’s brands include Dove, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Lux, Rexona, Blueair, Pond’s, Pears, Wall’s, Tresemme and more. Unilever spent around $42.4 million advertising on Facebook just in the US last year, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics.
“There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media. The Coca-Cola Company will pause paid advertising on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days. We will take this time to reassess our advertising policies to determine whether revisions are needed. We also expect greater accountability and transparency from our social media partners,” says James Quincey, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola spent $22.1 million on Facebook ads last year and more than $18 million on Twitter, according to data by Pathmatics.
British multinational beverage alcohol company Diageo has also confirmed that from 1 July, they will pause all paid advertising globally on major social media platforms. “We will continue to discuss with media partners how they will deal with unacceptable content,” they say.
It is still early days of the revolt. Expect more companies to join in, but for social media companies, the real impact will be felt on the financials and the balance sheets in the coming months. A single advertiser pulling back may not have made a lot of difference, but this movement can put pressure on social media giants to finally clean up their platforms.