A big advertising boycott of Facebook officially kicks off on Wednesday. What brands are pausing spending, what do they want, and what impact is this having on the world’s biggest social network?
Ford, Adidas, Starbucks, Unilever — the roll call of companies joining the advertising boycott against Facebook includes some of the world’s biggest household brands. So far, more than 150 have pledged to pull their ads from the social media network for periods of up to six months over its failure to take meaningful action against misinformation and hate speech.
The Silicon Valley giant is no stranger to controversy but this boycott threatens not only to dent its reputation but also its income. Its share price has fallen 9 per cent since the boycott began. Other social media platforms, including Twitter and Snapchat, are also being targeted. The brands that have gone on strike may in part have self-seeking motives — the boycott has generated positive press for many while allowing them to cut budgets that were already under pressure from the pandemic — but this should not detract from the worth of the action itself.
The company has even removed a network of anti-government accounts associated with the fringe “boogaloo” movement after designating the group as a dangerous organization, the company said. The network, which represents a subset of the broader movement, actively planned violence, Facebook said, though it declined to share additional details, saying it did not want to interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations.
Advertisers have until recently embraced Facebook, attracted by the targeted ads the social network gives them and how cheap the ads are. Digital advertising on platforms is predicted to account for more than half the $530bn global advertising industry this year. But the level of complaints about Facebook’s apparently less rigorous attitude to content than that of some of its rivals has been steadily growing. The resentment has become a call to action in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement; brands cannot be associated with any hint of racism or intolerance. Facebook’s approach is out of kilter with the public and corporate mood, as well as with that of its own employees.