Facebook is facing major backlash over its, let’s call them fluid, hate speech policies. Even before the Washington Post reported on Sunday that Facebook has been rewriting its hate speech policies to accommodate President Trump, a campaign backed by the NAACP, ADL, Color of Change, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and others, gained the support of many large businesses and brands to pause advertising on Facebook for the month of July.
The argument: Facebook has willingly allowed hate speech, misinformation, and incites to violence to spread on its platform, with little to no accountability for publishers, advertisers, and accounts that share such content.
Enter: Stop Hate For Profit, an organized boycott of Facebook and Instagram, which seeks to send a message to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg through the withholding of advertising dollars.
The power of the dollar
In 2019, Facebook generated over $70 billion in revenue, 99% of which came from advertisers. Zuckerberg has thus far been unmotivated to make any real change at Facebook, because revenue has not been impacted by criticism of Facebook’s corporate policies. But at the time of this writing, over 127 businesses have publicly signed on to participate in the boycott, urging Zuckerberg to implement new policies that will better protect at-risk populations and cease the promotion of hate groups and misinformation. Well Done’s name isn’t on this official list, but we won’t be spending any money on Facebook this month, and at least one of our clients is participating in the boycott as well.
We, the people (advertisers, it turns out, are people, too) hold a lot of power. Facebook has become as big and powerful as it is because businesses spend their money there. We contributed to its growth with our financial decisions and it seems the only way we can contribute to its change is through financial motivation as well.
At the same time, we recognize the power and impact Facebook has, not only on our society as a whole, but on small businesses who depend on the platform to reach their audiences and grow their businesses. We’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that Facebook advertising can have on a business’s growth. The decision to stop participating in an effective platform is a big one, and one that that most marketers aren’t taking lightly.
For your consideration
So if you, like us, are wondering what to do about Facebook (or any other civil rights issues that intersect with advertising), here are a few things to consider as you make your decision.
- Consumers see their dollars as their voices. Nearly two thirds of global consumers will choose to support or boycott a brand based on its position on a social or political issue, according to an Edelman study. We’re in an era of what Richard Edelman has termed “brand democracy,” where people have elected brands as change agents, and expect a brand they support to “live its values, act with purpose, and if necessary, make the leap into activism.” If you represent a brand through advertising, you’re also representing its core values. Consider what those values are and make sure your public face really does embody them with authenticity.
- Know where your ads are going. I mean this both in terms of ad spend (who are you giving your money to) and ad placement (where are your ads showing up, and next to what content). While most display networks and video advertising have content filters to prevent ads from showing up next to controversial or offensive content, Facebook has no such filters. An audit conducted by the ADL showed major brands’ ads showing up right alongside antisemitic posts, conspiracy theories, and hate speech. This is an inherent risk in advertising on Facebook as long as the platform continues to allow such content. If this is a risk you’re not comfortable taking, Facebook might not be the right platform for your brand.
- Boycotts are temporary, and an effective way to make change. We know this, because the bus still runs in Montgomery, and all are welcome to sit in the front seat. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ran for over a year, from 1955 to 1956. It was inconvenient, uncomfortable, and ultimately resulted in a fully integrated bus system. We might all need to be a little uncomfortable and inconvenienced to make the change we want to see, but the sooner Facebook makes appropriate changes to its policies, the sooner we can all get back to business.
Based on those considerations, all signs point to boycott for our agency. But we fully understand that we cannot make that decision for our clients. Well Done Marketing will always aim to serve our clients and their business goals to the best of our ability. We know our clients’ advertising budgets are not our budgets, and decisions on how to spend those budgets is up to them. Ultimately, you can count on us to offer advice that’s in the best interest of your business–for some clients, that may factor in social activism, but for others it may not.
Well Done has made the decision to participate in the Facebook boycott to stop hate for profit, and we won’t resume advertising our own brand on Facebook until Zuckerberg updates its policies. We fully support any other advertisers who have made the same decision and hope that all of our combined voices and dollars will spark meaningful change at Facebook. When I got into marketing, I didn’t anticipate that the industry would be this intertwined in public policy and seismic societal shifts, but here we are. Let’s make the most of it.
Photo by Annie // Unsplash