Facebook is halfway through a far-reaching advertiser boycott designed to last until the end of July, a standoff that could extend if the company doesn’t meet the organizers’ demands to clean up the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platforms.
It puts big-name brands participating in the boycott in a precarious position; there’s no easy answer for when they should return their ad dollars to those channels.
Before they do, brands have to consider the demands of advocacy groups and regular consumers, as well as the risk of giving up the very targeting tools that are best used to reach them. And, of course, what Facebook ultimately changes to make the platform safer.
It’s not usually this complicated for brands to balance their social interests with their ad spends, said Bridget Jewell, creative director at the Minneapolis-based agency Periscope.
“Normally those things are aligned. If you, as a brand, have a cause and you want to support it with your dollars, usually it’s a very simple thing,” Jewell said. In this instance, she said, Facebook has put brands in a tough position.
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign started as a simple ask: brands would cease spending on Facebook and sister company, Instagram, in July. Beyond pledging to join the effort, it gets more complicated.
What has Facebook done?
The campaign’s organizers, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, were soundly unconvinced that Facebook had done anything to clean up its act amid the boycott after meeting with executives in a video conference last week.
Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González called the meeting “nothing more than a PR exercise” at the time and said the boycott would continue until Facebook took their demands “seriously.”
Facebook will be hard-pressed to get brands to return until it outlines an actual roadmap for change, said Jed Meyer, managing director, North America, at the media consultancy Ebiquity.
“If there’s not something like that, I think it’s probably harder to want to go back until there’s something tangible that you can point to and say, ‘OK, they got it,’” Meyer said.
In a statement to Adweek, Stop Hate for Profit said it has not decided whether to ask brands to boycott past July. The group said the boycott efforts created “more movement from Facebook than arguably ever before.” “We will continue pushing, and are confident [Facebook] will make more changes,” the statement continued.
Facebook said it invests billions of dollars to keep hate of its platform, pointing to the ban of 250 white supremacist organizations and its regular transparency reports on content moderation. It also touted, as it had in the past, its initiatives to boost voter turnout. “We agree that we must fight hate and voter interference aggressively,” Facebook spokesperson Elana Widmann said in a statement to Adweek, later adding, “We know we will be judged by our actions not by our words and are grateful to these and other groups for their continued engagement.”
While CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he will not make decisions based on revenue pressure, Facebook has already made changes during the boycott. At the end of June, Zuckerberg reversed course and said Facebook would label politicians’ posts that violated rules—similar to Twitter’s own policy.
Earlier this month, Facebook agreed to a brand safety audit with the Media Rating Council, a nonprofit that certifies the reliability of audience measurement services. And Facebook and Instagram also banned ads promoting conversion therapy and booted hundreds of Boogaloo extremist accounts off the platform in recent days.
But Facebook’s 89-page civil rights audit, which came out last week, said that while Facebook has made some progress, independent auditors “watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights.”