Zuckerberg and the Facebook ad boycott; how will it end?

03 July 2020

The #StopHateforProfit campaign was launched just over two weeks ago, on 17 June 2020, with a striking advert in the LA Times asserting that Facebook had “allowed incitement to violence against protestors fighting for racial justice in America.” The campaign urged advertisers to hit Facebook in their pockets and withdraw their advertising from the site in the month July.

Facebook has previously been criticised for allowing extreme and violent content to be accessed via its platform. In one recent example from May 2019, Facebook deactivated its livestreaming feature after it was used by a gunman in New Zealand to broadcast a massacre online.

The recent protests around the globe stemming from the death of George Floyd in the US have now led to this new campaign. Facebook is accused of allowing incitement to violence against protestors, crediting news sources that have “records of working with known white nationalists” and turning a blinding eye to blatant voter suppression.

The campaign has gained momentum. And fast. One the first day of the boycott, 1 July 2020, hundreds of household, global brands are said to have signed up and withheld advertising. These include Adidas, Mars, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen.

The speed and success of the campaign has led Mark Zuckerberg to reportedly agree to meet the organisers of #StopHateforProfit to seek to persuade them and the advertisers to drop the boycott.

How successful is the campaign likely to be? We will only know for sure once the boycott concludes at the end of July, or if Mr Zuckerberg is willing to give any concessions to the campaign. Whilst high profile, the financial impact of the campaign has so far been limited. At the time of writing, only three of the largest 25 advertisers by size on Facebook last year (Microsoft, Starbucks and Pfizer) have publicly backed the boycott. Facebook will also be reassured that the vast majority of its advertising revenue comes from thousands of small and medium sized businesses, rather than being overly skewed towards these international conglomerates.

But Mr Zuckerberg is clearly concerned enough about the campaign to come to the negotiating table. He will no doubt be conscious of the reputational, as well as financial, bruising that Facebook is currently taking; especially in a huge US election year with all of the history of the last election to grapple with. He will also be concerned about the possibility of a successful lawsuit against Facebook in relation to some of the alarming content that has been highlighted by the campaign, or that which otherwise pervades the site on a daily basis.

What is more likely is some form of uneasy truce. Facebook may well take steps that they say will curb the misuse of its platform or seek to utilise technology to move companies’ adverts away from content that they don’t want to be associated with. Whether that will be enough to satisfy the organisers of #StopHateforProfit, or indeed the advertisers themselves, is another question. Either way, the broader campaign to force Facebook to stop allowing extreme and otherwise unlawful content on its site is unlikely to stop anytime soon. So watch this space.

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About the Author

Simon Brown

Senior Associate

With a broad range of experience in reputation management, including defamation, privacy and data protection matters, Simon regularly acts for high-net worth individuals and international organisations.

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