Your favourite social media platform (well, we’re guessing) has managed to make headlines once more (and once again, for all the wrong reasons). The American social media conglomerate, Facebook is set to face a major set back as major advertisers decided not to spend money on Facebook ads during the month of July. The campaign called the ‘Stop Hate For Profit’ started by advertisers, is to teach Facebook a lesson for its limited efforts to combat hate speech.
What sparked the Stop Hate For Profit campaign?
Several instances have emerged wherein Facebook has been criticised for not taking action against a number of controversial statements, on its platform. One such incident involved the current US president wherein Facebook actually went on to tweak their rules, in an attempt to avoid angering the President.
Here’s what happened. In 2015, a video post featuring Trump - a then-Republican candidate for the 2016 US Presidential elections, calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants, was uploaded on Facebook. While this post did draw criticism from Zuckerberg and other senior Facebook leaders, the post stayed on the platform. This because the social media giant feared that removing the post would cause them serious ‘PR risks’.
Another incident came to light during the #BlackLivesMatter protests that erupted after the video of the brutal murder of George Floyd went viral. In response to this, President Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Whilst this tweet glorified violence, it wasn’t taken off Facebook. Another social media giant, Twitter, set an example and restricted the tweet, preventing it from being replied to or liked, and hid it behind a warning declaring that the tweet broke its rules. Meanwhile, Facebook let the post remain untouched.
In 2017, there was a deadly crackdown by Myanmar’s army on Rohingya Muslims. This sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border into Bangladesh. What fueled this crisis? Hate speech on Facebook. In Myanmar, Facebook is essentially the only source of information for netizens. Myanmar military personnel, who had their own personal agenda used Facebook to their own advantage. The systematic campaign painted Muslims in a bad light, by posting videos and other false information on the platform. Thus, this created the anti-Muslim mindset which then went on to fuel violence.
There are more such instances: In 2019, a gunman used the social network to live stream the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. The video stayed up for hours, thus causing outrage at how a social media platform could enable something as horrific to remain on the platform. The company responded by saying that “the video was first reported to Facebook almost half an hour after the live stream began - 12 minutes after it had ended. This meant it wasn't removed as quickly as it might have been if it had been flagged while it was still live. The live stream footage was later shared on the 8Chan message board, allowing it to be reuploaded to and subsequently removed from Facebook a further 1.2 million times in the first 24 hours.”
Such instances were the precursors for the Stop Hate For Profit campaign.
Stop Hate For Profit campaign: What is it?
Last year, Facebook made $70 billion in revenue. This staggering figure should give you an idea of just how dependent the social media giant is on advertising. On June 17, a group of civil rights organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, called on businesses to "hit pause on hate" and not advertise on Facebook in July. "Let's send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and violence."
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said his organization and other civil rights advocates have been pushing Facebook to do more to make the platform safer since many years. “I mean, look, we are still working with them on a regular basis. Yeah, I think we’re very deeply frustrated. I think the company really needs to ratchet up its game dramatically. And I would start by looking at the recommendations in Stop Hate for Profit. They are simple. They are straightforward.” he said.
He characterized the Stop Hate For Profit campaign as a "30-day pause on advertising" rather than a boycott. Civil rights groups want to work with Facebook to help the company address these longstanding problems. He said that the point of the campaign is to show that it's not only a stakeholder concern but a "shareholder imperative."
Brands which will stop their ads on Facebook
The big names in the marketing sector, are part of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign. This including Adidas, Ben & Jerry's, Best Buy, Blue Bottle Coffee, Body Shop, Campbell Soup, Chobani, Clif Bar, Denny's, Dockers, Dunkin' Donuts, Eddie Bauer, Eileen Fisher, Ford, Fossil, Hershey, Honda, HP, Intercontinental Hotels, Mozilla, North Face, Patagonia, Pepsi, Schwinn, Sesame Workshop, Siemens, Six Flags, SodaStream, Starbucks, Target, Unilever, and many more.
The Stop Hate For Profit campaign highlights 10 steps that it wants Facebook to take, to address the present situation.
The goal of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign
- Establishing a civil rights infrastructure to evaluate products and policies for discrimination.
- Submitting independent audits of identity-based hate, regularly to third-party on a publicly accessible website.
- Providing audit of and refund to advertisers whose ads were shown next to content that was later removed for violations of terms of service.
- Finding and removing public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, etc.
- Adopting common-sense changes to their policies that will help stem radicalization and hate on the platform.
- Stopping to recommend or otherwise amplifying groups or content from groups associated with hate, misinformation or conspiracies to users.
- Create an internal mechanism to automatically flag hateful content in private groups for human review.
- Ensuring accuracy in political and voting matters by eliminating the politician exemption.
- Creating expert teams to review submissions of identity-based hate and harassment.
- Enabling individuals facing severe hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee.
How has Facebook responded?
"Billions of people use Facebook and Instagram because they have good experiences, they don't want to see hateful content. Our advertisers don't want to see it, and we don't want to see it. There is no incentive for us to do anything but remove it," said Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last Friday that the company will start labelling newsworthy content it leaves up even though it violates the company's rules. The labelling wouldn't apply to content that suppresses voting or incites violence, which Facebook would pull down even if the remarks come from politicians.
How will the interface be different?
Will your home page be empty? Will you stop seeing those favourite Adidas shoes popping up, tempting you to just go for it? Will Dunkin’ Donuts quit trying to make you cheat the diet? To understand how things will be different from now on, it is vital to understand how Facebook ads work. Facebook shows you ads based on the pages you or your friends like, or the businesses you check out, based on certain keywords. Thus if your recent shopping has been from one of the above-mentioned brands, then yes. Be prepared to not see them for a while on your Facebook page.
But the big question is, what is the impact of all of this?
Impact of the ad boycott
Impact on Facebook:
Analysts and marketing experts are of the opinion that the ad boycott will do more harm to Facebook's already tarnished image than to its finances. In a short while, Facebook shares dropped more than 8% in the wake of more brands like Unilever joining the boycott. The decline wiped out $56 billion from Facebook's market value, Bloomberg reported.
Impact on advertisers:
Facebook is a great marketing tool and boosts business. It gathers data about its users and uses this very information to target them via ads. Thus, companies that are part of the campaign will suffer with respect to marketing their products to their target audience.