Business_news After deflecting scandals for years, Facebook now faces a rapidly growing advertiser boycott that is the biggest threat to its business yet (FB)

Business_news

  • Facebook faces a growing advertiser boycott over its failure to curb hate speech on the social network.
  • Unlike many previous scandals that Facebook has weathered, this directly impacts its bottom line.
  • The company has announced a bunch of new rules and changes intended to appease its critics.
  • But some civil rights groups say it’s not enough, and the situation will only get more heated as the 2020 US election approaches.

Coca-Cola. Verizon. Unilever. Honda. The North Face. Patagonia. REI. The list keeps growing.

Over the past week, growing numbers of high-profile brands have signed on to boycott Facebook’s advertising throughout July, in protest at its perceived inaction on hate speech. The Silicon Valley-based social networking giant has faced angry brand boycotts before — but never on this scale.

Facebook is now scrambling to make peace,announcing a slew of new rules and features around safeguarding elections and tackling hate speech, while seeking to reassure advertisers that it is committed to tackling the societal issues to which it has been accused of contributing.

For years now, Facebook has stumbled from scandal to scandal, from its role in spreading hate speech that fueled genocide in Myanmar to political firm Cambridge Analytica’s misappropriating the sensitive data of tens of millions of users.

But these crises, while reputationally damaging, have never been enough to stop the company’s revenue figures climbing inexorably higher — or to convince significant numbers of users to leave the service.

The July ad boycott is something else, though: a reaction to Facebook’s crises that may actually hurt the bottom line in a meaningful way.

Of course, the boycott has significant limitations,as Gizmodo reporter Shoshana Wodinsky pointed out on Friday. Some of the brands are only suspending their ad spend in the US, while others are refusing to comment on whether they’ll continue to spend ad dollars on the Facebook Audience Network — an off-site advertising network that Facebook also operates. It’s not going to put Facebook out of business, in other words.

But it still illustrates a growing commercial toxification of Facebook’s brand that is now powerful enough to convince major international brands to publicly distance themselves from the company — generating a fresh round of negative publicity and damaging Facebook’s reputation further in the process.

On Friday, Zuckerberg took the unusual step of broadcasting part of his weekly Facebook-wide team meeting publicly, announcing several new changes aimed at placating the growing disquiet from advertisers, users, and his own employees. 

Facebook will now label posts from politicians that it would normally take down for breaking its rules but have been left up because of their newsworthiness — an abrupt reversal on Facebook’s earlier opposition to such a feature. Twitter recently affixed warnings to tweets by President Donald Trump that it said glorified violence. Facebook declined to, sparking the biggest internal employee protest in the company’s history.

It’s also tightening up its rules on hate speech and advertising, prohibiting ads that present immigrants and refugees as inferior. (It’s a change that raised some eyebrows as to why such ads weren’t already banned.As Sheera Frenkel, a reporter with The New York Times, tweeted: “Every time [Facebook] announces changes to their polices on hate speech … I find myself wondering HOW WAS THIS ALLOWED UNTIL NOW.”)

The features announced on Friday seem insufficient for tamping down the frustration among advertisers and civil rights group. 

Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, one of the civil rights organisations behind the boycott campaign,tweeted: “A few minutes into the statement, Mark Zuckerberg has already said that he won’t be fact-checking politicians’ claims. Already, this is nowhere near enough … What we’ve seen in today’s address from Mark Zuckerberg is a failure to wrestle with the harms FB has caused on our democracy & civil rights. If this is the response he’s giving to major advertisers withdrawing millions of dollars from the company, we can’t trust his leadership.”

Particularly troubling for Facebook is that Unilever — one of the world’s largest advertisers and owner of top consumer brands such as Hellman’s mayonnaise, Lipton tea and Axe body spray — didn’t just agree to boycott the social network in July.It is hitting pause on all advertising on Facebook and Instagram until the end of 2020, a full six months. (It is also pausing ad spend on Twitter.) “there is much more to be done, especially in the areas of divisiveness and hate speech during this polarized election period in the U.S.,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.”

Facebook is now in an unenviable position. It faces employee unrest, negative sentiment among advertisers, and constant attacks from politicians on both the left and the right in the US. The 2020 presidential election draws closer, with the promise of ever-more heated political rhetoric, set against the backdrop of a resurgent pandemic and economic devastation. Things seem unlikely to improve.

Do you work at Facebook?Contact business Insider reporter Rob Price via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 650-636-6268), encrypted email (robaeprice@protonmail.com), standard email (rprice@businessinsider.com),Telegram/Wickr/WeChat (robaeprice), or Twitter DM (@robaeprice).We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by standard email only, please.


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