For the first time in its history, Facebook is facing an organized boycott from advertisers set to begin July 1st. It’s not from small companies, either — large corporations including Hershey, Honda, and Verizon have stopped their spending. Several companies joined the initiative after July 1st, including Sony Interactive Entertainment, the company that makes PlayStation, which reportedly said July 2nd it would suspend ads on Facebook and Instagram through the end of the month.
Companies from a variety of industries, including health snack brand KIND and retailer Target, have followed suit. Target said it would use the July pause on advertising “to re-evaluate our plans for the remainder of the year,” suggesting the retailer could extend its participation in the boycott. KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky echoed the sentiment, writing on LinkedIn, “If Facebook doesn’t take visible, measurable and assertive efforts to effectively prevent the promotion of hate, division, defamation and misinformation by this year’s end — we will feel compelled to evaluate indefinitely suspending our investments in Facebook until they do so.”
The goal of the #StopHateforProfit campaign is to pressure the social media behemoth into changing how it handles hate speech and misinformation, including often incendiary posts from President Trump. The companies pledge to stop advertising on Facebook and Instagram for at least a month.
Some companies have taken the boycott a step further, pulling advertising from all (or most) social media platforms — not just Facebook — and that list includes Coca-Cola, Lego, Starbucks, and Unilever. Microsoft has suspended its advertising on Facebook as well, at least through August. So yeah, it’s a potentially big deal. Whether pulling ad dollars will have an impact — financially or otherwise — is still to be determined.
Here’s what you need to know about the social media ad boycott, and what it all means. As this story continues to evolve, The Verge will keep this list updated as more companies sign on.
How did the Facebook ad boycott all start?
A coalition of civil rights organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Color of Change, and Sleeping Giants launched the campaign on June 17th. Facebook, they claimed, has allowed hate groups to flourish on its platform with many people joining extremist groups because of the platform’s own recommendation tools. An ADL study found 42 percent of daily users had experienced harassment on the platform.
What do companies boycotting Facebook want?
The group has a long list of asks; along with policy changes to prevent hate speech and update algorithms, the list includes hiring a C-level executive with civil rights expertise, conducting a third-party audit of hate and misinformation, offering refunds for advertisers when their ads are shown alongside “problematic” content; and providing bias training for human content moderators.
How is Facebook responding to the ad boycott?
Carolyn Everson, vice president for global marketing solutions at Facebook said in a statement that the company respects brands’ decisions and remains “focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information,” adding it was having “conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was placing new restrictions on hateful content in ads, explicitly banning ads that encourage racial divisions (but the restrictions don’t apply to unpaid posts).
On July 1st, a recording leaked of Zuckerberg speaking to Facebook staff about the boycott. The Information reported the CEO said he didn’t want to give in to advertiser pressure because “my guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.” Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote an op-ed saying titled“Facebook does not benefit from hate,” adding that the company was making progress in its efforts against hate speech. “Unfortunately, zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidences. With so much content posted every day, rooting out the hate is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Clegg wrote.
So what else are companies getting out of this advertising pause?
What, you mean you’re as cynical as The Verge when it comes to the altruistic intentions of mega-corporate entities?! Well, you may be on to something. A lot of companies set their advertising budgets quarterly, and as you might imagine, the most recent quarter was ugly for many companies because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many were already looking to reduce their advertising budgets in the coming months. So if they stop spending money on social media advertising, in theory, they’re saving that money (or funneling it elsewhere), relieving some of the pressure on their bottom lines. If they get “earned” media and some goodwill out of the deal, even better. Of course, companies may just want to make a statement and do what they think is the right thing, you know. Maybe.
But some companies, like Coca-Cola, are boycotting more than just Facebook and Instagram?
Yes, several larger companies including Lego, Starbucks, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Diageo have announced they’ll pause advertising across all social media platforms (Starbucks says it will still run ads on YouTube), with Unilever saying it would hold its ads through the end of 2020 amid a “polarized election period.” On July 1st, CVS said it will pause advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for “at least 30 days.” And not all companies boycotting Facebook are taking the official pledge; according to Axios, Microsoft suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram back in May and may continue to do so at least through August.
Will an ad boycott like this make a difference in Facebook’s bottom line?
Well that’s the real question, isn’t it? An analysis by Fortune finds that it would take thousands of Facebook’s 8 million advertisers to make a dent. Last year, Facebook had almost $70 billion in ad revenue, so many analysts see the boycott as largely symbolic. And worth noting that according to Gizmodo, not all the brands involved in the boycott have said whether they’ll pull their ads from Facebook’s Audience Network, which lets brands advertise on third-party apps using Facebook’s targeting data.
Which companies have joined the Facebook ad boycott?
240 companies across many industries have signed on to the #StopHateforProfit campaign, according to the campaign’s website, which calls for a halt to Facebook ad spending as of July 1st. Here’s just a few of the names on the list, and we’ll keep it updated as more companies sign on.
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Eddie Bauer
- Levi Strauss & Co.
- Magnolia Pictures
- The North Face
Update July 1st, 8:33PM ET: Added information regarding CVS and Lego suspending ads, and added names to the list of companies who have signed on to the #StopHateforProfit campaign.
Update July 2nd 9:54AM ET: Added comment from Nick Clegg and detail about leaked recording of Mark Zuckerberg’s comments, added report of Sony Interactive Entertainment joining the boycott.