Despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing a change in direction on the platform's efforts to address hate speech, and content from politicians, more brands have declared their intention to join the #StopHateforProfit campaign, which has called on businesses to pause their Facebook ad spend in July in protest over the company's content policies.
As Facebook continues its failure to meaningfully address the spread of hate on its platforms we join @NAACP, @slpng_giants, @freepress, @CommonSense and @ColorOfChange in calling for a one-month ad pause for July. Facebook must #StopHateforProfit: https://t.co/DjiGaZFgCk pic.twitter.com/orrKFcGw5R— ADL (@ADL) June 17, 2020
The campaign says that Facebook has allowed speech "which incites violence against protesters fighting for racial justice", and has called on corporate America to stand up against Facebook's policies.
As per the #StopHateforProfit website:
"Could [Facebook] protect and support Black users? Could they call out Holocaust denial as hate? Could they help get out the vote? They absolutely could. But they are actively choosing not to do so."
So far, more than 90 brands have announced that they'll halt their Facebook ad spend for the month, with Starbucks being the latest big name to pause its ads (though Starbucks has noted that it's not joining the #StopHateforProfit campaign, as such). Among the other big names are Unilever, Coca Cola, Verizon, and Levi's.
And #StopHateforProfit is not stopping there - today, the campaign has announced its intention to expand internationally, in order to put more pressure on Facebook to implement change.
As per Reuters:
"The campaign hopes to embolden regulators in Europe to take a harder stance on Facebook. The European Commission in June announced new guidelines for tech companies including Facebook to submit monthly reports on how they are handling coronavirus misinformation."
Expanding the campaign could see Facebook come under scrutiny on several fronts - and while Facebook has noted that it doesn't make policy decisions based on revenue pressure, and several analysts have reported that the actual, financial impact of any boycott will be minimal either way, it could hurt Facebook beyond just a perceptual, PR impact.
A bigger, flow-on effect that could result from the boycott is a re-thinking of digital ad spend more generally.
Over time, Facebook's active usage has, reportedly, declined, despite the platform continuing to grow its audience. Facebook continues to report strong numbers in active usage - and it's impossible to deny the power it holds at 2.6 billion monthly active users. Yet, as reported by The Information last year, Facebook knows that users are increasingly looking to other platforms.
"[Facebook researchers] warned that if enough users started posting on Instagram or WhatsApp instead of Facebook, the blue app could enter a self-sustaining decline in usage that would be difficult to undo. And although such “tipping points” are difficult to predict, they should be Facebook’s biggest concern."
So how can Facebook report increasing total user stats, yet see declining usage at the same time? The key here lies in how those numbers are reported.
Facebook's active user numbers reflect the total number of people who log into Facebook each day, but they don't reflect how much time people spend in-app. That means that people could be logging into Facebook, checking their notifications, then logging straight back out. In this case, they'd still be counted as an active user, despite them only spending a few minutes in the app. Conversely, more people are spending increasing amounts of time in messaging apps, and on other platforms like Instagram or TikTok. So while we all check in on Facebook to see what our family and friends are up to, many people are likely spending much more time in other apps - without impacting Facebook's reported active user numbers.
Why does that matter here? Because while these advertisers are taking a break from Facebook, they'll likely be experimenting with ads in other social apps. Facebook may not lose any significant revenue from a few advertisers halting their ad spend, but if more advertisers start looking at alternatives, and getting better results, that might, collectively, see a major re-think of digital ad spending focus. And that could, over time, cause significant headaches for The Social Network.
If more people are spending more time in other apps, that could mean that the potential for advertisers is higher on those platforms, despite Facebook's unmatched scale. Essentially, by seeing advertiser attentions drift, Facebook could lose out in a far more significant way - and while a lot of those ad dollars will still go to Facebook-owned Instagram, and indeed, will come back to Facebook again later in the year, increased amounts of ad budgets could also switch to Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok and others. And that could become a big problem for The Social Network.
It's worth noting, too, that Facebook was already dealing with increased revenue pressure due to the expanded impacts of COVID-19.
As reported in Facebook's Q1 update:
"We experienced a significant reduction in the demand for advertising, as well as a related decline in the pricing of our ads, over the last three weeks of the first quarter of 2020.”
Facebook also removed its revenue guidance for FY20 - so again, while some advertisers pulling ad spend are not going to cripple the company, it is facing tougher economic conditions, and it will need to report on its progress to its shareholders. Facebook may be bringing in billions, but it still needs to show growth, and while the pressure will be lessened on this front due to COVID-19, if the numbers start to decline too far, Zuck and Co. will indeed feel the heat.
So while the basic analysis is correct - this boycott is mostly symbolic and will have no real impact on Facebook, long-term - the expanded effects could still be significant.
Will it lead to more brands switching focus to other platforms?