Facebook advertisers put to test as boycott over hate speech kicks off
NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (US) – Advertisements for more than 400 brands including Coca-Cola and Starbucks are likely to disappear from Facebook on Wednesday, after the last saving talks to stop a boycott over hate speech on the site also failed.
U.S. civil rights groups have engaged with the multinationals to help pressurise the social media giant into taking strict measures to block hate speech. This comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd and amid a national call to tide over racism.
Facebook executives including Carolyn Everson, vice president of global business solutions, and Neil Potts, public policy director, held at least two meetings with advertisers on Tuesday. The meeting was fixed on the eve of the planned one-month boycott, according to three sources who participated in the calls.
That said, the executives did not divulge any new details as to how they would tackle hate speech, the sources said. Instead, they traced back to the recent press releases, putting pressure on the advertisers on the calls.
“It’s simply not moving,” said one executive at a major ad agency of the conversations.
Moreover, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with the organisers of the boycott, a spokeswoman said late Tuesday.
US civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and Color of Change initiated the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign after the death of George Floyd.
The groups underscored 10 demands for Facebook including giving those people who experience harassment to speak and air their grievances with a Facebook employee and giving refunds to brands whose ads show up next to offensive content which is later removed.
Facebook said earlier this week it would submit to an audit of its hate speech controls, which would be an add-on to plans such as labelling newsworthy content that would otherwise violate its policies. It would be made sure to follow similar practices at other social media platforms such as Twitter Inc.
As per a digital ad agency representative who participated in a call on Tuesday, Facebook executives repeatedly mentioned about the audit, but did not offer additional concessions.
Facebook executives have got the message across to chief executives, board members and chief marketing officers of major advertisers to convince them out of the boycott. Two people briefed on the discussions said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak on the record.
The boycott will prove to be a test for advertisers on how to influence billions of consumers without relying on the largest social media platform in the world, an executive at a major ad agency said.
Companies that run ads in order to promote their brand image rather than to make direct sales are less beholden to Facebook. Many of these, including the multinational advertisers who have joined up with the boycott, will begin to plot how they can achieve the same goals without Facebook, the executive said.
For Facebook, the boycott is not expected to have a big financial impact. The top 100 brands on Facebook in 2019 likely brought in only 6% of Facebook’s total $70 billion in annual revenue, according to a Morningstar research note citing Pathmatics data. It is responsible for the evaluation of most types of advertising on the platform. Facebook said last year its top 100 advertisers made up to less than 20% of total ad revenue.
News of the boycott removed $56 billion from Facebook’s market capitalisation after an 8% drop in its stock on Friday. However, shares recovered 3% on Tuesday and are actually trading 8% higher year to date.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg last week asked to have a meeting with the campaign organisers along with Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, Zuckerberg’s long-time friend. This marked his return to Facebook this month after resigning over the company’s direction last year.
The civil rights groups were persistent on having Zuckerberg also at the table, with Anti-Defamation League Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt as they noted that as CEO, chairman and the company’s largest shareholder, “he is the ultimate authority.”
The Facebook spokeswoman said on late Tuesday that the company had confirmed that Zuckerberg would join the proposed meeting.
“We’re waiting to hear back and look forward to the opportunity to continue the dialogue,” she said.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field.