Brands Send Message to Facebook, Industry with Ad Boycott

Major advertisers including Verizon, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, The North Face, Eddie Bauer and REI have decided not to advertise on Facebook during the month of July. The action was urged by the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and other civil rights groups to force Facebook to reexamine its policy of refusing to remove political ads containing “blatant lies.” In response, Facebook is taking steps to persuade its top advertisers not to join the boycott, including assurances that it takes civil rights concerns seriously.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook VP of the global business group Carolyn Everson stated that, “we set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.” Executives at the company also said they are continuing the development of AI to detect hate speech.

The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to advertisers stating that, “every day, we see ads from companies placed adjacent to hateful content … your ad buying dollars are being used by the platform to increase its dominance in the industry at the expense of vulnerable and marginalized communities.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, joined by chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, met with “a group of big advertisers and ad agency-executives,” and “said political content can be seen as egregious by one side and not by the other.”

Barry Lowenthal, chief executive of The Media Kitchen, revealed that several of his ad buying clients “are planning on sitting out in July.” Others cite that the boycott is “the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen.” Procter & Gamble is reviewing all platforms on which it advertises – including Facebook – for objectionable content and also met with civil rights group Color of Change, which joined the ADL and NAACP in calling for the ad boycott.

AdAge reports that the Anti-Defamation League’s campaign — dubbed “Stop Hate for Profit” — is accompanied by photos posted on its website of offensive imagery appearing next to brands’ ads. The ADL stated it found anti-Semitic and racist screeds next to ads for major companies. Facebook, which has taken some steps against President Trump’s campaign, insisted it catches 89 percent of hate speech before it spreads on the platform.

In 2019, Facebook generated $70 billion in advertising revenue, from 8+ million advertisers, so it’s unclear how much impact the boycott will have.

Bloomberg reports that Verizon has put its advertising on Facebook and Instagram on hold “until the social networks can get better control over posts that spread disinformation.” “We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance when they are breached, we take action,” said Verizon chief media officer John Nitti.

Verizon is, thus far, one of the largest advertisers to join the boycott. ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt applauded “Verizon for joining this growing fight against hate and bigotry.”

In response to advertiser outcry, Facebook introduced new measures on Friday. The company plans to “attach labels to all posts across its network that discuss the subject of voting,” explains The New York Times. “The labels will direct users to accurate voting information” and “Facebook said it would expand its policies around hate speech and prohibit a wider category of hateful language in ads on the site.”

Facebook Ad Boycott Campaign to Go Global, Organizers Say, Reuters, 6/28/20
Facebook Tightens Controls on Speech as Ad Boycott Grows, The Wall Street Journal, 6/26/20
Ad Agency Encourages Clients to Join Facebook Ad Boycott, The Wall Street Journal, 6/18/20
Ben & Jerry’s, Eddie Bauer Join Facebook Ad Boycott, Yahoo Finance, 6/24/20
Patagonia Joins REI, The North Face in Facebook Ad Boycott, Yahoo Money, 6/22/20
Viber Severs Ties With Facebook in Growing Boycott, The Guardian, 6/25/20
Zuckerberg Once Wanted to Sanction Trump. Then Facebook Wrote Rules That Accommodated HimThe Washington Post, 6/28/20

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