Have you ever imagined that one day Coke and Pepsi were they united? Or Adidas and Puma? These brands, like hundreds of others, have recently joined the Stop Hate For Profit (“Stop the hatred for profit”, in free translation), an advertising boycott movement that aims to force the Facebook to act energetically to combat hate speech on their social networks.
Platforms like Twitter and YouTube are also affected by the movement, but Facebook is by far the main target. An increasing number of companies – much of which are globally active – are suspending ad delivery on the platform in order to protest what would be a strategy by Mark Zuckerberg’s company to profit from harmful content.
If, on the one hand, the boycott raises important questions, on the other, it leaves us surrounded by doubts: why did big brands join this movement? When did Stop Hate For Profit start? Will we have something similar in Brazil? Is Facebook really the villain of this story? The next few lines will help you understand what is going on.
The start of the Facebook boycott
Facebook operates in several segments, but only one maintains its operations: advertising. Small and medium businesses account for a generous slice of ad revenue, but the most significant part of what the company invoices comes from large advertisers. A good part of them got involved with this “revolt”.
We are talking about giants like Unilever (which owns dozens of brands around the world, such as Omo, Kibon and Maizena in Brazil), Coca-Cola, Ford, Adidas, Starbucks, Microsoft, Pfizer, Mozilla, Vans, SAP and hundreds of others – on July 1st, the Sleeping Giants group revealed on Twitter that 530 brands had joined the #StopHateForProfit until that date.
Despite the movement gaining momentum in the last week of June, the Facebook boycott officially started a little earlier, on June 17. The North Face, one of the first brands to join the movement, announced its participation on June 19 in a tweet with the words “We’re in. We’re Out ”(“ We’re in. We’re out ”).
The message also contains the link www.stophateforprofit.org, which leads to the company’s official website. The website is maintained by the ADL – Anti-Defamation League -, a centenary NGO based in the United States that combats anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.
Alongside ADL are groups such as the National Association for the Progress of People of Color (NAACP), Free Press (American NGO that fights for freedom of the press), Common Sense (NGO focused on education for children) and the already mentioned Sleeping Giants (American movement that fights hate speech and false news).
Identified with the hashtag #StopHateforProfit, the company started with Facebook appearing as a declared target. It is a “enough” movement: basically, the aforementioned groups require the company to take measures to stop disinformation and, above all, hate speech on the social network.
The understanding of these groups is that, although Facebook has announced policies against these problems in recent years, in practice little has changed, presumably because, despite the regrets, the company profits by leaving things as they are.
Why big brands join the boycott
Facebook has already suffered several boycott campaigns, such as #deletefacebook, promoted in 2018 after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But, as the hashtag itself suggests, these campaigns encouraged users to leave the social network. Now it’s different: Stop Hate For Profit aims for the company’s coffers.
It is an insightful approach. The line of thought is, if previous campaigns for Facebook changes were unsuccessful or insufficient, the alternative is to hit where it hurts the most: the pocket. The movement’s organizers planned, from the beginning, to bring to the boycott companies that advertise or can advertise on the social network:
We asked companies to temporarily pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram to force Mark Zuckerberg to address the effects that Facebook has been having on society.
The movement started timidly, but soon gained scale, especially in the last week of June. At first glance, it may seem that the brands simply decided to join forces and start the campaign on their own, but that is not what happened. In fact, one company joined, then another, and another, and the subject was generating buzz.
Suddenly, it seemed that, in the shadow of the growing popular uproar, being part of the movement is an important strategy for major brands, after all, the Stop Hate For Profit campaign comes up in the wake of important issues that are on the rise, such as the problems of false news in elections and the uprisings against structural racism that arose after the death of George Floyd.
Does this mean that brands entered this for pure marketing? This possibility exists, but, in general, it is not so. The truth is that there is a demand that, within certain limits, brands stand on social or even political issues.
In this specific scenario, the boycott directly involves giant companies because they are big advertisers in the online media. As the campaign defends important causes – combating hate speech and disinformation, essentially – positioning in favor of the movement ends up being mandatory for many companies, even to follow the code of ethics that each one follows.
Anyway, Fernando Souza, consultant and professor of digital business, marketing and social media, says in an interview with Tecnoblog that observing the brand’s performance before, during and after the campaign can indicate whether the company embraced the idea out of self-interest: “for brands that already had a certain activity in activism or supported causes, it is very likely that they have a lesser chance of being in this one by fad or marketing move ”.
Can we have a boycott in Brazil?
The boycott started in the United States and will be prevalent there until the end. But, will we be able to face a similar movement in Brazil? The specialists consulted by the Tecnoblog point out that, although on a smaller scale, this is possible for two reasons.
Fernando Souza says that the first is the fact that Brazilians, in general, have a history of involvement with global causes and, many times, this engagement ends up reflecting in the performance of companies.
In addition, many American companies operate globally and therefore understand that they must stop Facebook ads as a whole, not just in the content that appears to American social network users.
For Fernando Kanarski, a specialist consultant in digital marketing, the possibility for Brazilian brands to mobilize also exists: “among my clients, some small ones have already expressed interest in joining the movement, so it is a matter of time and, mainly, greater dissemination and more American brands to get things going in Brazil ”.
But if, in the end, Brazilian companies are oblivious to the issue, the damage will still be done: the boycott has had global repercussions, not least because we are talking about a social network that operates in practically the whole world.
An example that illustrates how little the borders are relevant in situations like this comes from Ben & Jerry’s, whose Brazilian unit commented on the subject on its own website: “we know how important it is to support a movement like this and, following the #StopHateForProfit, in July we paused paid media on the Facebook and Instagram platforms ”.
Effects on online advertising
On the internet, the advertising market is dominated by two companies: Facebook and Google. The first because of the strength of its social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp together reach 3 billion active users per month.
Google displays ads in its search results, on mobile apps and on millions of websites through platforms like Google Ads, AdSense and AdMob, in addition to earning high with ads on YouTube.
As a rule, companies set up teams to handle ad serving in both universes. That is one of the reasons why the market as a whole can be affected, even though the target of the boycott is the Facebook ecosystem. Proof of this is that the pause in ads already splashes on platforms like Twitter and YouTube.
However, the chances of facing a major crisis in the online advertising market are slim. Kanarski points out that ad networks are more likely to adapt, as much as possible, to the demands of major advertisers:
Just as the boycott of Youtube in 2017 resulted in greater control by Google over the content published in the tool, in addition to more autonomy for advertisers to choose where to appear, this movement can result in improvements on Facebook and even on Google itself.
Facebook defends itself
This possible adaptation does not necessarily mean that all the protest requirements will be met, not least because they are numerous. The Stop Hate For Profit campaign makes Facebook “recommendations” like these:
- hire an executive with experience in civil rights to review products and rules in order to curb hate or discrimination content;
- allow regular audits by an independent auditor;
- notify and refund companies when their ads appear alongside content removed for violating rules;
- seek and remove groups that advocate topics such as violent conspiracies, militias, denial of climate change, white supremacy and rejection of vaccines;
- stop recommending groups or content linked to hate speech, misinformation or conspiracies;
- allow harmful content to be notified in closed groups for human moderation;
- allow people who face hate speech, discrimination or serious harassment to address the issue with a Facebook employee.
In a way, some of these “recommendations” are already met by Facebook. The company already has people specialized in reviewing products and content policies, as well as providing channels for reporting violations of rules, for example (if these channels work or not, it’s another story).
Other claims, however, are more complicated because of the monstrous number of users that Facebook has: so many people generating content that even the most effective of algorithms can let groups, pages or posts that violate rules go unnoticed by the filtering process.
Of course, this kind of difficulty does not exempt Facebook from the work of curbing harmful content. And if there was this line of thought over there, perhaps the boycott will change that attitude: the message that big companies send with the movement is basically that they don’t want their brands to appear alongside hate speech or news false.
Perhaps that’s why, on June 26, Mark Zuckerberg himself announced a series of changes to Facebook’s policies. He says the changes are related to promises to review policies made earlier this month to get the social network ready for the 2020 elections in the United States, but it is very coincidental that the announcement was made during the height of the boycott.
In any case, one of the changes revealed by Zuckerberg concerns precisely the hate speech:
We have invested heavily in artificial intelligence systems and human reviewers so that we can now identify almost 90% of hate speech. (…) We are expanding our ad policy [publicitários] to prohibit claims that people of a race, ethnicity, origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical integrity, health or survival of other individuals.
It was not just Zuckerberg who spoke up. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s global vice president of public policy, says that, contrary to what the movement preaches, the company does not profit from hatred:
Facebook has received a lot of criticism in recent weeks after the decision to allow controversial posts by President Trump to remain on the platform (…). I’ll be clear: Facebook does not profit from hate. 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 neither do we.
It won’t be the end of Facebook
THE Bloomberg estimates that the boycott has already made Zuckerberg lose more than $ 7 billion. But it is premature to think that this situation is generating panic within the company. The reason is only one: Facebook knows its strength.
Note that, despite the ad boycott, companies do not talk about abandoning the service. This is because, as consultant Fernando Souza points out, many brands, mainly linked to retail, need the social network.
“A large number of companies that joined the movement are industries”, complements Souza in reference to the fact that, for several of these companies, social networks are not that important, a situation that gives them more freedom to participate in the movement.
Let us also take into account that membership follows different approaches. Some companies halted advertisements on Facebook services indefinitely. Others, only during the month of July. There are also those that paused ads, but did not officially join Stop Hate For Profit, like Coca-Cola.
Facebook has so much cash on hand that, for its structures to be seriously shaken, the campaign would have to last longer or have a much larger adherence. Zuckerberg’s class knows that, for many companies, this is out of the question, after all, users – consumers in this context – continue to access the platform.
Not that Facebook isn’t feeling the blow. The pocket is the most sensitive part of any company. As Fernando Kanarski explains, this kind of pressure can really make “companies like Google or Facebook make decisions more quickly in the face of the boycott of their biggest advertisers”.
But as long as it is in control of the situation, Facebook will only yield to a certain extent, perhaps as a means of containing damage. We can expect, yes, that the company’s social networks are more rigorous in relation to hate speech, fake news and other harmful content, but to believe in radical changes in the functioning of these services is to bet too high.
The warning signal must be on there, but with the United States presidential elections approaching and the fact that this is a complicated year for virtually all social networks, it is very likely that Facebook was already prepared to deal with a turbulent period.