The time to calculate the Facebook advertiser boycott

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign started in the United States with a trickle that turned into a flood. Brands like REI, Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia were among the first to register. Even bigger names followed suit, including Verizon, Ford, Honda, Levi Strauss, and Walgreens.

Organizers say the way the campaign has spread around the world is evidence that it is gaining ground. At least 220 organizations outside the US have signed up, according to POLITICO’s analysis of their social media accounts.

“There has been more interest from abroad than we had anticipated,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the groups behind the boycott.

Taking the international campaign creates more pressure points for Facebook. Not only did the company raise more than 50 percent of its $ 70 billion in revenue from outside the US and Canada in 2019, but boycott organizers hoped its campaign would also capture the attention of regulators in the Foreign.

But international adoption has been mixed. Several of Canada’s largest banks and retailers, including the Royal Bank of Canada, MEC, Arc’teryx, and Lululemon, have joined the effort. In Germany, global brands such as Puma, Adidas, Bayer and Volkswagen have supported its weight. But few companies in France and Italy, two of the most powerful European economies, have decided to withdraw their advertising from Facebook.

Since the boycott began, Facebook has committed to recruiting experienced civil rights personnel and reviewing the experience of its minority users. But those efforts were already underway prior to the boycott and do not meet what organizers are demanding, as a C-suite executive with a civil rights background and teams to review hate speech and harassment based on identity. .

The North Face, one of the first companies to join the campaign, will resume advertising on Facebook and Instagram in August, spokeswoman Samantha Wannemacher said. But, she added, both The North Face and other brands owned by VF Corp., which include Eastpak and Timberland, will continue to pressure Facebook to make policy changes.

“We are encouraged by initial progress and we recognize that change does not happen overnight. That is why we will continue to engage in dialogue with Facebook to hold them accountable for the actions they plan to implement, ”said Wannemacher.

Boycott organizers have continued to urge advertisers to join the effort throughout July and are pushing to keep up the pressure, though they have not said what form it will take. They say the decision will likely depend on whether Zuckerberg addresses his concerns in his testimony at the Hill on Wednesday or in the company’s earnings call the next day.

“A lot is happening this week, and as we look back at August, we’re looking for companies to stay with us,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, a group that advocates for net neutrality and social justice issues. in the middle. “We are giving Facebook time to meet our demands, and we remain vigilant.”

Zuckerberg has taken the campaign seriously enough that he and COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke to several of the advertisers to try to avoid the effort. González said Facebook contacted organizers again last week, but did not commit to key demands such as removing accounts that post hate or misinformation, or preventing algorithms from automatically spreading such content.

“Facebook is under the microscope and they can take a carrot or a stick,” he said.

JM Smucker Co., the company behind Smucker’s, Jif and Meow Mix, among other brands, said it will not resume advertising until the demands of organizers Stop Hate for Profit are met.

“To date we have not been satisfied that Facebook has conveyed an adequate plan to remove hate speech and discriminatory content from its platforms,” ​​said spokesman Frank Cirillo. “Our advertising hiatus will continue until Facebook commits to taking significant steps to address these important issues.”

But since most of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from smaller advertisers, it would take a much larger number of companies to join the boycott to make a significant dent in the company’s revenue.

And some companies that have cut advertising have done so silently, without demanding any kind of movement. Walt Disney, for example, stopped Facebook ads in early July, according to data analytics firm Pathmatics, but did not announce a reason. The Netherlands-based Walmart, Geico and Delft, Ikea also stopped the ads on the platform, but are not included in the list of companies that have joined the official campaign. Verizon said this month that its boycott is independent of the multi-company effort.

British-Dutch consumer goods conglomerate Unilever made a splash when it canceled spending on social media in the United States until the end of the year. But its social media advertising in the rest of the world remains intact. A Unilever spokesperson said the company is also not considered part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

“We would like to see more companies in Europe participate,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO and founder of the UK-based Center for Digital Hatred, which has supported the advertising boycott. “The defense of blacks, the Jewish communities is not a problem of the United States or of Europe, it is universal.”

Ahmed added that it was “disappointing” that European companies like Unilever did not take broader measures. “There is no good reason for any company to limit the geography for which they have a ban,” he said.

Of the top five European-based advertisers: Unilever, Heineken, Nestlé, L’Oreal, and Reckitt Benckiser, only Dutch brewing company Heineken confirmed that it stopped Facebook ads worldwide. Heineken did not respond to follow-up questions about whether the ban would continue in August. Nestlé, L’Oreal and Reckitt Benckiser did not respond to requests for comment.

A key difference is that Europe, unlike the US, has grappled with hate speech online for years through government legislation and regulation, making advocates of stricter content moderation on Facebook may be more likely to put pressure on government policy makers than to use boycotts to put pressure on the company directly. Existing rules governing online content in Europe could also reduce the urgency for European companies to respond to pressure from advocates.

“It is an ‘a-ha moment’ in the EU because the discourse on the power of platforms and their role as arbiters of the discourse has been a much more common part of the conversation,” said Raegan MacDonald, head of EU policy. for the opening source software developer Mozilla, one of the organizers of Stop Hate for Profit.

While the European Commission is currently drafting the Digital Services Act, a legislative proposal aimed at online platforms that is expected to address issues like content moderation and curation and algorithmic transparency, “there are fewer legislative hooks in the United States.”

The boycott has found a particularly cold reception in France.

French multinational L’Oreal said it would remove words like “whitening” and “lightening” from packaging for skin care products, but the beauty conglomerate, which is the world’s fourth-largest advertiser, failed to announce. advertising boycotts on Facebook.

“In France, there is sometimes a tendency to say that [systemic racism] it’s not our problem and it’s a long way away, like everything is fine at home, “said an organizer from Sleeping Giants France, where his workers operate anonymously due to a history of online harassment and threats. Sleeping Giants, an organization with Headquartered in the US, which has carried out a series of advertising-led lobbying campaigns, is one of the organizers of the boycott of Facebook.

“We often need to do some preliminary work to raise awareness before we can convince brands to participate in such movements. Other countries are more reactive, “added the organizer.

Rémi Devaux, a French researcher and analyst at data science company Ekimetrics that focuses on targeted advertising, said the effort may seem more urgent in the US because American advertisers are at greater risk of seeing their ads alongside the inflammatory political content or hate speech because of the 2020 presidential campaign. That could change when high-profile elections are looming in Europe, he said.

“In the short term, the electoral cycle is much more unfavorable for advertisers in the United States compared to the current political climate in Europe,” he explained. “We could see more advertising boycotts in France during the 2022 presidential election.”

United States civil rights groups have been pushing for changes to Facebook for years, but found a new pressure point after the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests over racial injustice. They leaned on brands that were interested in showing their support for African Americans to get social media publicity until it addresses concerns about disinformation and hate speech targeting minority communities.

Facebook simultaneously completed a two-year audit of its civil rights policies earlier this month and promised to make changes as a result, including hiring a vice president with experience in civil rights. Even more recently, the company created internal teams to study racial bias in its networks and better understand minority user experiences. Facebook did not attribute these changes to the advertising boycott, and in some cases planned them much earlier.

“Hate speech has no place on our platform and while we have invested in technologies and equipment over the years to combat hateful content, we clearly have more work to do,” said Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions. Facebook, in a statement. .

Some brands have said that their boycott timeline will depend on how Facebook handles the pressure. Levi Strauss, for example, doubled down on his previous commitment: “When we participate again it will depend on Facebook’s response.”

But many seemed unsure of what comes next. Walgreens, Patagonia, Denny’s and Pfizer, for example, declined to give updates.

Meanwhile, the civil rights groups organizing the boycott are increasing their efforts to publicly embarrass Facebook into action. The groups released a video of “Dear Mark” last week that makes a personal appeal to the CEO.

“Are you finally going to listen to us, Mark?” the video asks. He continues: “Are you willing to stop profiting from hate? Can we trust you?