The Facebook ad boycott – which first found traction with retailers – gained momentum on Monday (June 29), as more brands joined the list of companies that have hit “pause” on the social media platform.
Among the companies joining retailers REI, Patagonia, The North Face and Eileen Fisher on Monday were some significant Facebook spenders, including Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, Diageo, Levi Strauss & Co. and the German packaged goods company Henkel. The rapidly growing group is registering its concerns about what it describes as the social media platform’s propensity to allow hate speech and violent content to go unchecked.
Per reports, the statement from The North Face, which operates 113 stores in North America, was typical: “We are pausing all domestic paid advertising with Facebook and Instagram through the end of July in an effort to support the implementation of stricter policies to stop racist, violent or hateful content and misinformation from circulating on the Facebook platform specifically. We hope they will reconsider their policies and will reevaluate our position in the next 30 days.”
Most of the boycott has been organized by a group called Stop Hate for Profit, which is a consortium of groups led by the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. Some brands, including Starbucks, have paused social media ads but have not officially joined the campaign. Starbucks spent $95 million and Diageo spent $23 million on the platform last year, according to The New York Times.
For its part, Facebook officially started to change some of its policies as announced in a town meeting led by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday (June 26). The most significant was Zuckerberg’s announcement that the company will apply its standards and practices for content to political messaging. That had not been the case before Friday, and there was no word as to when it would be enforced. Zuckerberg also committed to labeling some political posts.
“We will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case,” he said. “We’ll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what’s acceptable in our society –but we’ll add a prompt to tell people that the content they’re sharing may violate our policies.”
Apparently, that was not enough to stop the tide of companies that have stopped advertising on Facebook or on social media altogether. At their most basic level, the decisions to boycott are political and contextual rather than strictly business-driven. While the leverage factor for a company like REI or Patagonia is substantial, retailers in the SMB category count on Facebook to drive leads, traffic and conversions. It will be harder for them to make any kind of stand or get noticed with the boycott.
“It’s sort of the same concept with businesses that want to be politically vocal on social media. Many customers want to know where you stand, they want to know that the companies with which they spend their money share their values. This is important. This helps customers connect with the creators whose work they admire and ultimately spend their money on,” says an op-ed in jewelry trade publication JCK. “On the other hand, for a struggling small business for whom every dollar counts, the fear of alienating important customers may signal alarm bells that can’t be ignored, even if they feel passionate about an issue. It’s a very, very hard decision to make, especially for independent designers and brands, where separating the business from the personal isn’t easy or even possible at times (that’s why we love indie brands! They’re people!). If we could all be Jeff Bezos and afford to lose customers, wouldn’t that be grand? Alas, this is not the case.”