Facebook advertisers hit pause

As Popular Information has documented, Facebook has failed to curb toxic content on its platform — including misinformation, violent threats, and voter suppression. Just last week, this newsletter reported that Facebook pages dedicated to the Boogaloo movement, which includes "white nationalists and neo-Nazis who want to see society descend into chaos so that they can come to power and build a new fascist state," continue to thrive. Facebook allows these Boogaloo groups to proliferate even though two members of these groups were just charged in the cold-blooded murder of a federal officer. The alleged shooter and his accomplice met in a Facebook group.

Now a coalition of activist groups, including the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and Sleeping Giants, have started a campaign to force Facebook to change. The effort, called "Stop Hate for Profit," asks corporations "to stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook's services in July."

The effort is picking up steam. The first major brand to sign on was North Face.

Twitter avatar for @thenorthfaceThe North Face @thenorthface
We’re in. We’re Out @Facebook #StopHateForProfit Learn more:


“It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy...” - @DerrickNAACP https://t.co/FxwuMUKotI

On Sunday, Patagonia announced it was pulling its ads from Facebook:

Patagonia is proud to join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. We will pull all ads on Facebook and Instagram, effective immediately, through at least the end of July, pending meaningful action from the social media giant.  For too long, Facebook has failed to take sufficient steps to stop the spread of hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform. 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...We stand with #StopHateforProfit in saying Facebook’s ‘profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence.

Patagonia has spent about $1 million on politically-themed ads with Facebook since May 2018, according to Facebook's ad database. (Facebook does not disclose spending on non-political ads.)

Outdoor retailer REI also joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. "For 82 years, we have put people over profits. We're pulling all Facebook/Instagram advertising for the month of July," the company tweeted

Other early signers include UpWork, an online temp agency, and HigherRing, a customer service company, and SparkCharge, which produces accessories for electric vehicles.

Taken together, a handful of companies pausing their ads will not have a significant impact on Facebook's bottom line. For the time being, the pause is temporary. Facebook brought in $70 billion in revenue last year.

But more than 90% of Facebook's revenue is generated from advertising. So if the Stop Hate for Profit campaign picks up more steam, it could become significant. Even if the campaign only succeeds in slowing down Facebook's revenue growth, that could depress the price of its stock. 

"We deeply respect any brand's decision and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good," Carolyn Everson, VP of Facebook's global business group, told CNN.

Advertising executives urge clients to stop advertising on Facebook

Are the companies participating in the July ad boycott anomalies? Or are they the tip of the iceberg?

The Wall Street Journal reports that a major ad firm, 360i, "is advising clients to support [the] ad boycott against Facebook." In an email to clients, the firm said it "believes any social platform that earns profits by amplifying the voices of their community must have a zero-tolerance policy for hate." 360i told clients that it is no longer enough to "be on a path to addressing this" or be "celebrating the considerable gains made over the last year." It urged its clients to embrace the Stop Hate For Profit campaign to force change now. 

The email from 360i is significant because its clients include "spice maker McCormick & Co., Discover Financial Services and consumer-goods giant Unilever PLC." 

Unilever, which owns dozens of brands including Lipton, Axe, Hellman's, and Ben & Jerry's, is one of the world's largest advertisers, spending $8.5 billion on advertising in 2018.

Elijah Harris, an executive at Mediabrands, a large ad-buying firm, wrote on LinkedIn that it was time to "hold Facebook’s leadership team accountable." Harris asked a series of probing questions:

With Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook leadership taking an approach to the spread of inflammatory and misleading content on their platform that is increasingly at odds with employee feedback, civil rights experts and policies of other social platforms, are Facebook still fostering a space where brands can build trust and positive relationships with customers?

[Is] Facebook abiding by their own mission statement to build community and bring the world closer together?

Should we as marketers be leveraging the weight of our ad investments to hold Facebook more accountable to call for a change...?

The answer to that last question, Harris said, is "yes." Harris called for marketers and agencies to make "a measurable commitment to re-allocate Facebook spend to partners that better align to a brand’s values and place human rights before profits."

Blue State, a digital consultancy which buys digital ads for a variety of progressive causes, is also supporting the Stop Hate for Profit effort.

The list of demands

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign has a list of proposed policy changes Facebook could implement to reduce the amount of toxic content on its platform. Many of these changes involve including more real humans in the content moderation process. Facebook currently relies heavily on artificial intelligence to flag content that violates its policies. 

The proposed changes include:

Create a threshold of harm on the platform where they will put a target of hate and harassment in touch with a live Facebook employee to help them address their concerns.

Create internal mechanisms (for every media format on every Facebook platform) that automatically remove all ads from content labeled as misinformation or hate.

Create an internal mechanism to automatically flag content in private groups associated with extremist ideologies for human review. This content and associated groups would then be reviewed by internal subject matter experts on extremism.

Facebook turned a $4.9 billion profit in the first three months of 2020. So it could easily afford to implement all of the campaign's recommendations

Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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