Could ads boycott kill Facebook?

could boycott kill facebpook
Boycotts can be extremely effective - as Facebook is finding out. Source: Getty Images
5 Min Read

Daily US Times: The abolitionist movement in the late 18th century encouraged British people to stay away from goods produced by slaves. The movement worked. Around 300,000 people stopped buying sugar – increasing the pressure to abolish slavery. Boycotts can be extremely effective – as social media giant Facebook is finding out.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign is the latest movement to use boycott as a political tool. The campaign claims that Facebook doesn’t do enough to remove racist and hateful content from its platform.

It’s convinced a series of major companies to pull advertising from Facebook and some other social media companies.

Among the latest to do so are Adidas, HP, and Ford. They join earlier participants including Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks.

News site Axios has also reported that Microsoft suspended advertising on Instagram and Facebook in May because of concerns about unspecified “inappropriate content”.

Meanwhile, other online platforms, including Twitch and Reddit, have piled on more pressure by taking anti-hate steps of their own.

Loss of trust

But is that really hurt Facebook? The brief answer is yes because vast majority of the company’s revenue comes from ads.

Many major brands pull their ads from Facebook. Source: Reuters

The loss of trust and a perceived absence of a moral code, could “destroy the business”, said David Cumming from Aviva Investors.

Facebook’s share price dropped by 8% on Friday – making chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, theoretically at least, £6bn poorer.

But whether this could be bigger – an existential threat to Facebook’s long-term future – is far less clear.

First of all, this is not the first time a social media company is facing such boycott. Major brand after major brand announced in 2017 that they would stop advertising on YouTube – after their advertisements were placed next to racist and homophobic videos.

That boycott is now almost totally forgotten. YouTube tweaked its ad policies, and three years after that, YouTube’s parent company Google is doing just fine.

And there are more reasons to believe this boycott isn’t as damaging to Facebook as you might think.

Firstly, many companies have only announced a one-month boycott in July.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, much of Facebook’s advertising revenue do not come from these big companies, rather it comes from thousands and thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses.

The highest-spending 100 brands accounted for $4.2bn in Facebook advertising last year, according to CNN reports – that is about 6% of the platform’s ad revenue.

Twitch’s action may feed into existing tensions between President Trump and Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos
Source: Getty Images

So far, the vast majority of medium-sized companies have not signed up for the campaign.

Mat Morrison, head of strategy at advertising agency Digital Whiskey, told the BBC there’s a huge number of smaller businesses that “can’t afford not to advertise”.

Smaller businesses are priced out of advertising on TV. For them cheaper and more focussed ads on platforms like Facebook are essential.

Morrison says: “The only way our business works is having access to these highly targeted audiences, that aren’t mass media audiences, so we’ll continue to advertise.”

The structure of the social media giant gives Mark Zuckerberg a huge amount of power to effect change. If he wants something, he’ll get it.

You need to change the mind of one man, Mark Zuckerburg.

Shareholders of Facebook aren’t able to put pressure on Mr Zuckerberg in the same way as other companies. If the Facebook CEO doesn’t want to act, he won’t.

So far though, he has shown signs he’s prepared to move. Facebook announced on Friday it would begin to tag hateful content – and look out for further announcements this week.

These changes will not be enough to make Stop Hate for Profit go away though.

Other platforms are also taking their won actions.

Reddit has banned The_Donald forum this Monday as part of a wider crackdown on “subreddits” whose members have engaged in harassment and threatening behaviour. The community was not officially linked to the US President but had helped widely spread memes that supported him, before Reddit took earlier steps to limit the posts’ reach.

Twitch also has temporarily banned an account run by the Trump campaign. The Amazon-owned video-streaming site said two videos of Mr Trump’s rallies that were shown Twitch had broken its rules on hateful conduct.

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