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Friday, July 10, 2020

Advertisers, Facebook civil but not reconciled

A July 7, 2020, meeting between Facebook and disgruntled advertisers failed to satisfy either side of an ongoing boycott against the social media giant. Stop Hate for Profit, organized by the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and other civil rights groups, is a protest against Facebook's policies toward civil rights, consumer privacy, factual news and targeted hate speech. Its message is resonating with Unilever, Coca Cola and other brands, whose collective ad spend accounts for as much as 90 percent of Facebook's revenue, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

"On June 17th, we asked companies to act against hate and disinformation being spread by Facebook in our campaign, Stop Hate for Profit," boycott organizers wrote. "We asked businesses to temporarily pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram in order to force Mark Zuckerberg to address the effect that Facebook has had on our society."

Recommended next steps

While Facebook made certain concessions, such as agreeing to hire a civil rights executive, organizers acknowledged that correcting all outstanding issues will take time, especially given their reporting that Facebook executives engaged in "spin" during the meeting. Nevertheless, the group was able to present recommendations for remediating perceived flaws in Facebook's growing marketplace and enterprise, including the following:

  • Accountability: Improve accountability by hiring a C-suite civil rights executive who would be responsible for evaluating products and policies for discrimination. Submit to regular outside audits and reimburse any advertisers whose ads are shown next to discriminatory content.
  • Decency: Enhance decency by removing hate speech and change policies to stem radical hate speech and misinformation. Stop recommending or otherwise amplifying groups or content from groups associated with hate, misinformation or conspiracies to users. Flag hateful content, even in private groups which can have thousands of members. And finally, hold political ads to the same exacting standards by eliminating the current politician exemption for spreading misinformation related to voting.
  • Support: Improve support by creating expert teams to review submissions of identity-based hate to protect Facebook users against harassment and bullying. Enable individuals facing severe hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee.

A matter of balance

Advertisers as well as consumers have long voiced their opinions by pulling dollars out of enterprises that act in ways that displease them, so this boycott follows a tradition of give-and-take advocacy that can be very effective. As Verizon, White Castle, Williams-Sonoma, Patagonia and other leading brands join the growing movement and boycott, organizers are hopeful that resistance will lead to substantive and permanent reforms by impacting Facebook's bottom line.

"Facebook is a company of incredible resources," boycott organizers wrote. "We hope that they finally understand that society wants them to put more of those resources into doing the hard work of transforming the potential of the largest communication platform in human history into a force for good."

George Sarantopoulos, CEO and founder of Access One Solutions Inc., sympathized with the objecting advertisers but supports freedom of speech. "The first amendment doesn't just protect speech everyone agrees with; that's easy," he said. "It was designed to protect speech that's counter to what everyone's saying and agreeing to; that's the beautiful but messy part of free speech."

Sarantopoulos also warned against backlash from aggressive censorship. "The people who were up in arms about the Citizens United case giving power to corporations are the same people who are OK with corporations dictating what can be said and not said in a public forum like Facebook and other social media," he stated.

Questions have also arisen about how effective the advertisers' boycott will turn out to be. The Information reported on July 1 that during a video meeting, Zuckerberg "told employees he was reluctant to bow to the threats of a growing ad boycott, saying in private remarks that 'my guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough'" and the boycott is "more of a 'reputational and partner issue' than an economic one."

As of this writing, however, the advertisers' boycott against Facebook is still going strong. Sara Spivey, Adweek contributor and chief marketing officer at software company Braze, told The Street last week that Facebook's ads are the most efficient and effective way to get messages out, but she cancelled Braze's upcoming Facebook ad campaign, questioning the ultimate cost. "Their leadership has chosen to look the other way, supposedly in the name of free speech, as highly visible and incendiary statements are amplified on their platform," she said.

Will this all be moot in the end?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks disrupted life and advertising as we used to know it. But will newcomers in the wings disrupt the disruptors? In a June 30 Forbes article titled "Is This the Beginning of the End of Facebook?" Billy Bambrough wrote, "Amid the growing Facebook ad boycott, Dfinity, a blockchain-based cloud computing platform that was valued at nearly $2 billion in 2018, has opened up its network to third party developers that it hopes will be able to 'reboot the internet' and end big tech's 'monopolization.'"

Dfinity intends to open its network to the public by the fourth quarter of this year. And Dfinity isn't the only blockchain game in town. "Early blockchain-enabled social media companies are already rushing to fill the demand, including Minds, now boasting 2.5 million registered users, Block.one, the company behind the EOS blockchain, and Revolution Populi spearheaded by Yale professor David Gelernter and Goldman Sachs veteran Rob Rosenthal," Bambrough wrote. end of article

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