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The advertising boycott on Facebook picks up steam

Holding back ad dollars may not be enough to shake Facebook, but the public shaming might

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Facebook is under fire from a slew of major advertisers for its refusal to put the clamps on hateful content. These advertisers are amping up their attack by cutting Facebook out of their advertising budget through the end of July.

Only in its second week, the campaign has racked up more than a dozen corporate supporters that have all pulled their ads on both Facebook and Instagram. Eddie Bauer and Arc’teryx were among the first to join, followed by VF company -- owners of Dickies, North Face, and Timberland -- Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, REI, and Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox web browser.

Collectively, they’re all part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, an initiative that was created by the civil rights group Color Of Change following the police killing of George Floyd.

Loud and clear

The messaging from the companies is pretty clear. In the words of Ben & Jerry’s, the collective wants Facebook “to take the clear and unequivocal actions called for by the campaign to stop its platform from being used to spread and amplify racism and hate.”

“I think the country is reckoning with this legacy of systemic racism in a way that it hadn’t before. You see this playing out in the public square [and] it seems to be playing out in the political arena,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told The Hill in an interview Tuesday. “That environment, I think, creates the conditions in which this advertising pause has so much appeal.”

Will Facebook feel the sting?

While the list of branded boycotters is respectable, they may not spend enough on Facebook to make the company cry uncle. The Motley Fool reports that VF, for example, carries a marketing budget of $753 million, but that is spread across its entire line of brands. Facebook generated $69.7 billion from advertising last year, and VF’s total ad budget is only 1 percent of that -- hardly a pinch.

There’s also the question of how long the Facebook boycotters can hold out. North Face, the first major company to join the campaign, told The Hill that it will “reevaluate our position” depending on what Facebook does once the boycott concludes at the end of July.

Oddly enough, Color Of Change says it’s not asking organizations to stop running ads on Facebook. However, it said someone, somehow, needs to get Facebook’s attention.

“Unfortunately, we have been forced to rely on paid ads because Facebook has gone out of their way to limit our ability to organically reach audiences, even to reach Color Of Change members,” the organization wrote. “By choosing to halt ads for July, companies are doing their part to make it easier for messages demanding justice for Black people to reach a larger audience online.”

Does Facebook want to look bad?

The public relations impact of this movement is the kind of egg-on-its-face that Facebook could do without. It’s spent nearly two years cleaning up the mess it created with the Cambridge Analytica donnybrook.

It’s not like the king of the social media mountain can claim ignorance in this situation, either. The ADL, NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press, and Common Sense have all had face-to-face discussions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on how to improve the way the platform deals with the full spectrum of negative comments, from racist to anti-Semitic. 

“There’s been a lot of misinformation,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, adding that “there’s been a ton of hate and white supremacist content on the [Facebook] platform, and they just ignore it.”

Draw a line and don’t let anyone cross over it

The boycotters would be happy if Facebook would do two things. The first is to determine a harm threshold that everyone has to abide by. If someone is getting harassed on Facebook, the groups want the platform to have people available to speak to who can put a stop to that harassment. The second is to create an internal mechanism that will flag ads and content in private groups that qualify as misinformation.

“As the world’s largest on-demand remote talent platform, we are committed to building a safe and inclusive space for companies and professionals,” Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork, said in a statement to The Hill on Monday. “We cannot stand by and be complicit to or complacent about the spread of hate, racism, and misinformation, and that is why we are supporting the Stop Hate for Profit advocacy campaign.”

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