In large numbers, corporations stop advertising on Facebook. Behind the boycott are moral as well as financial motives. Zuckerberg has to decide whether he wants to set Trump limits.
There is a table that Mark Zuckerberg will probably have trouble sleeping. The Google document is titled “Confirmed List of # StopHateforProfit Advertisers”. It currently comprises almost 250 names, with new ones being added every day. The longer the document gets, the greater the worries of the Facebook boss: Each line represents a company that no longer wants to book ads on the largest communication platform in the world.
For a few weeks now, the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign has been trying to convince companies to redistribute their advertising budget in July. Behind it are civil rights organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change, but also the Mozilla Foundation. Her accusation: Facebook is willingly abused by hate preachers and racists instead of using its annual turnover of more than $ 70 billion to take appropriate countermeasures. The only way to get Zuckerberg to rethink is through an advertising boycott.
Dozens of well-known companies are participating, including the consumer goods group Unilever, Adidas, Honda, Levi’s, Starbucks and outdoor manufacturers such as Arc’teryx, Patagonia and The North Face. In part, they publicly show solidarity with the initiative, in part they only announced that they would refrain from Facebook advertising. Some limit the boycott to the United States, others continue to advertise on Facebook’s Instagram. The message is still clear: Facebook is running away from advertisers.
That has an effect. Last Friday, the Facebook share lost more than eight percent in value. Within a few hours, the book value of Zuckerberg’s private wealth was reduced by more than $ 7 billion. At least at first glance, the boycott not only impressed the stock exchange, but also the Facebook boss. In a long post, he announced measures that read like a reaction to the increasing pressure.
Among other things, Facebook is tightening its standards for dealing with discriminatory advertisements. In addition, Zuckerberg makes a remarkable U-turn: If posts violate Facebook’s guidelines but the public interest outweighs the risk, the company will now display warnings.
That could affect statements made by Donald Trump. “If looting begins, shooting begins,” the president said during the protests after George Floyd’s death – Twitter tweeted because it glorified violence. Facebook left the post untouched at the time.
The advertising boycott was only a catalyst, not a trigger
The timing seems to be perfect: Zuckerberg published his article less than two hours after Unilever, a company with a huge advertising budget, had joined the boycott. But Facebook itself claims that the change of course has nothing to do with “Stop Hate for Profit”. “Our guidelines are based on principles, not on economic interests,” quotes CNN from a Facebook manager’s email to advertisers.
In fact, such rule changes usually go through several levels of coordination and take significantly longer. Zuckerberg indicated at the beginning of June that he wanted to revise the guidelines. At the time, employees protested his refusal to remove Trump’s contribution. The advertising boycott may have accelerated Facebook’s internal processes, but it was probably not the cause of the new strategy.
In any case, there are good reasons to question the motives of some companies that have joined the campaign to raise public awareness. The corona pandemic has melted advertising budgets, and many marketing departments have to redistribute their money anyway. So it makes sense to combine the necessary with the useful: in some cases, the reach of the headlines about the allegedly morally motivated boycott should far exceed the actual effect of the Facebook ads.
Facebook is in a difficult situation
Facebook does indeed signal its willingness to compromise to its advertising partners: a leading manager admitted last week that he was suffering from a “lack of trust”. So far, “Stop Hate for Profit” has only hurt symbolically, not financially. 97 of the 100 most important advertising customers have so far ignored the campaign – and even this top 100 does not play a major role. Facebook is not dependent on individual advertisers, a large part of the income comes from small and medium-sized companies. The number of lines in the Google spreadsheet would therefore have to grow by one or two zeros, so that the effects are also reflected in Facebook’s next quarterly figures.
But just like some companies that thankfully take away the PR effect, Facebook knows about the power of the headlines. In addition, Facebook has been in a difficult situation for months. First, companies started advertising less to save money at the beginning of the Corona crisis. This affects the media, but of course also Google and Facebook, the world’s largest advertising sellers. Second, the internal pressure on Zuckerberg is increasing. Employees are dissatisfied that the Facebook boss refuses to show Trump limits and keeps making new exceptions so as not to upset the US president.
Third, the United States is elected in November, and Trump has shown in the past that he is willing to use his Facebook reach to lie, incite racism, and break pretty much any rule Facebook has over 2 , 5 billion other users. So far, Zuckerberg has done everything possible to avoid the open conflict, but even Facebook has recently removed advertising and a contribution from the president.
Zuckerberg stands alone with its appeasement policy
In the course of the election campaign, Trump is likely to continue to claim without reason that Facebook and other tech companies disadvantaged the Republicans. He will sound out where Facebook draws the line and force Zuckerberg to position himself. The Facebook boss will have to decide whether to turn one of the most powerful men in the world against himself. Or whether he continues to try to calm him down – and fires campaigns like “Stop Hate for Profit”.
Facebook is increasingly alone with its appeasement policy: After Twitter and Snapchat had already made it clear in the past few weeks that their rules also apply to Trump, two other tech companies reacted on Monday. Reddit blocked 2000 sub-forums, including the group “The_Donald”, in which hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters also shared hateful and racist content. The video platform Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, even pulled Trump off the stage. The president’s channel was temporarily suspended for offensive comments in a stream, a spokeswoman said.
The initiators of “Stop Hate for Profit” have already made it clear that they expect similar measures from Facebook. They also want to specifically encourage European companies to boycott. Jim Steyer, one of the brains behind the campaign, indirectly threatened Facebook that the campaign would become even bigger: “It will expand globally because the world will agree that we are on the right side of history,” he told the portal Axios. “And Facebook is on the wrong side of the story. Period.”