Symbolic or Systemic?
The “#StopHateforProfit” campaign is a boycott by businesses who agree to pause their advertising on Facebook for the month of July. According to the campaign’s organizers, “it is a response to Facebook’s long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform.” The backers of the campaign are themselves an interesting group: ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, Free Press and Common Sense. These organizations have distinct and diverse missions, but they’ve come together with the common goal of stamping out hate online.
· “We have long seen how Facebook has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives. When this hate spreads online it causes tremendous harm and also becomes permissible offline.” (Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO, ADL)
· “As corporations take a stand against racism in our society, they should consider how their advertising dollars support Facebook making Black people less safe online. …A key way for major corporations to demand racial justice is to withhold their dollars until Facebook becomes more responsible and accountable to Black communities on the platform.” (Rashad Robinson, President, Color of Change)
· “Facebook has become one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world by allowing disinformation, hate and incitement on its platform. …we are urging companies to take a pause from spending on Facebook ads until it makes common sense changes on the platform that protect children, our democracy and social justice in this country.” (James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO, Common Sense)
It is no accident that this campaign comes on the heels of the Black Lives Matter protests that rapidly spread across the globe. It is also no coincidence that other social media such as Twitter, Reddit and Twitch have just recently addressed or limited hate online. In addition, there is a thinly veiled implicit rebuke of Donald Trump’s race-baiting and hate-mongering online.
Given that Facebook is the 600-pound gorilla of social media, and that almost all of its $70 billion of revenue comes from advertising, #StopHateforProfit could have a pretty big impact if advertisers decide to come aboard.
That seems to be the case. At last count, according to the campaign’s website, which is periodically updated, close to 250 businesses and organizations have joined the ad boycott and the list is growing. The campaign has spread globally, and heavyweight advertisers with multimillion-dollar Facebook ad budgets are playing hardball. Some participating organizations have even gone so far as to extend their advertising “pause” across other social media platforms as well.
Facebook is taking the boycott seriously; senior executives are setting up private meetings with advertisers. The company’s stock is taking a beating, which may be causing Mark Zuckerberg himself to take “pause.”
Symbolism or Systemic Change?
The real question is whether this is a largely symbolic play by Facebook advertisers — or a serious attempt to make lasting change. Some cynics suggest that the participating companies are benefitting from the halo effect of positive publicity from name association with a noble campaign sure to be popular with consumers. Gerard Francis Corbett, a Silicon Valley communications consultant, tells MarketWatch, “By pulling ads, they save money and make a low-risk statement that results in positive publicity and marketing for their brands among constituents. The Facebook boycott is a lower-risk way for CEOs to make a [political] statement.”
There is always a fine line between brand advertising and brand advocacy. In this case, advertisers may indeed get more from joining the ad boycott, both directly and indirectly, than from actually advertising on Facebook.
Will the boycott result in systemic change? The good news is that Facebook has already scrambled to take some preliminary actions, such as committing to remove content that it says “incites violence” or aims to “suppress voting.” Just this week, Facebook said it would ban groups linked to “Boogaloo,” a radical right movement. And according to MarketWatch, Facebook honchos, including potentially Zuckerberg himself, have agreed to meet with the boycott organizers.
As for the “#StopHateforProfit organizers, they’ve detailed the ten specific steps on their website they believe Facebook must pursue as a step in the right direction:
1. Establish and empower permanent civil rights infrastructure including C-suite level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate. This person would make sure that the design and decisions of this platform considered the impact on all communities and the potential for radicalization and hate.
2. Submit to regular, third party, independent audits of identity-based hate and misinformation with summary results published on a publicly accessible website. We simply can no longer trust Facebook’s own claims on what they are or are not doing. A “transparency report” is only as good as its author is independent.
3. Provide audit of and refund to advertisers whose ads were shown next to content that was later removed for violations of terms of service. We have documented many examples of companies’ advertisements running alongside the horrible content that Facebook permits. That is not what most advertisers pay for, and they shouldn’t have to.
4. Find and remove public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism.
5. Adopting common-sense changes to their policies that will help stem radicalization and hate on the platform.
6. Stop recommending or otherwise amplifying groups or content from groups associated with hate, misinformation or conspiracies to users.
7. Create an internal mechanism to automatically flag hateful content in private groups for human review. Private groups are not small gatherings of friends — but can be hundreds of thousands of people large, which many hateful groups are.
8. Ensure accuracy in political and voting matters by eliminating the politician exemption; removing misinformation related to voting; and prohibiting calls to violence by politicians in any format. Given the importance of political and voting matters for society, Facebook’s carving out an exception in this area is especially dangerous.
9. Create expert teams to review submissions of identity-based hate and harassment. Forty two percent of daily users of Facebook have experienced harassment on the platform, and much of this harassment is based on the individual’s identity. Facebook needs to ensure that their teams understand the different types of harassment faced by different groups in order to adjudicate claims.
10. Enable individuals facing severe hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee. In no other sector does a company not have a way for victims of their product to seek help.
Still, hate-mongering is so tightly woven into the fabric of Facebook that it will be difficult for the company to cull it all out. What’s more, Facebook management needs to make many decisions that will have long-term implications — some of them more wrenching than others.
Barry Silverstein is a retired direct marketing/brand marketing professional who has authored numerous non-fiction marketing and small business books. His books include Boomer Brands: Iconic Brands that Shaped Our Childhood, and Boomer Brand Winners & Losers: 156 Best & Worst Brands of the 50s and 60s. Learn more about him at https://www.barrysilverstein.com.