The movement’s talking. Is Facebook listening?

Close to 1,000 companies are boycotting Facebook this July by pulling their advertising dollars from its platforms, including Instagram, in response to the #StopHateforProfit campaign. Major corporations like Target, Coca-Cola, Lululemon, Starbucks, Lego, Clorox, Dunkin Donuts, Ford and Verizon are taking a stance against Facebook’s lax policies regarding hate speech and disinformation. With $70 billion on the line and communications leading the charge, will this pressure force real change? From Grayling New York, Trevor Thompson takes a closer at how this situation continues to unfold, the key stakeholders now involved and the powerful role of a communications strategy.

When did this start?

In mid-June 2020, Color Of Change and other organizations called for Facebook to address the racism across their platforms, through a campaign called #StopHateforProfit. The organizations appealed directly to the businesses who control over $70 billion of Facebook’s annual revenue by asking them to pause their ads for the month of July and to take accountability for aligning themselves with such a platform. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, this scrutiny has been further intensified, with the public watching closely to see whether companies’ actions match their virtuous words.

The first move may surprise you…

One of the first companies to pull their money from Facebook was Talkspace. This decision may read as surprising because it was related to Facebook’s inaction on Donald Trump’s post (see our earlier blog post for context). Although this instance preceded the #StopHateforProfit campaign, it shows companies were frustrated with Facebook at large and ready for a step like this.

The North Face was the first large brand to join, opening the door for others including REI, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Upwork, and Eddie Bauer to jump on board. Most took to Twitter to announce their decision. All of the statements from executives are united in sentiment and ask Facebook to acknowledge and amend the inaction taken on part of spreading hate speech and misinformation. Below are a few highlights from leaders across these industries:

· “Facebook made a clear mistake[…]. I encourage everyone[…] to push Facebook towards authentic ownership of the content and the impact of its platform.” Oren Frank, CEO of Talkspace

· “We believe in bringing communities together, both in person and online, and we stand against hate speech[…]. Both business leaders and policy makers need to come together to affect real change.” Starbucks

· “There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media. The Coca-Cola Company will pause paid advertising on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days[…]. We also expect greater accountability and transparency from our social media partners.” James Quincey, CEO and Chairman of Coca-Cola

What is Facebook saying?

At first, Facebook’s VP of global business solutions, Carolyn Everson, indicated that boycotts would have no impact and that Facebook will not make changes tied to revenue pressure. She also stated that they set their policies based on principles rather than business interests.

While he did not reference the boycott directly, Mark Zuckerberg took to a livestream Friday, to announce that the company will change its policies to prohibit hate speech in advertisements.

Following the announcement, Facebook rolled out measures to add more context to problematic political posts on its site and said it would attach labels to all posts that discuss voting, in an effort to dispel any disenfranchisement of voters ahead of the US November election. The labels will direct users to “accurate voting information”.

It appeared Zuckerberg may have been starting to waver until a virtual ‘town hall’ for Facebook employees last Friday (3rd July). According to a transcript of the meeting acquired by The Information, Zuckerberg told employees that his “guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough,” and that “we’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue.”

Facebook has 8 million advertisers and last year, generated $69.7 billion in global ad revenues. Following this activity, both Facebook and Twitter’s stock fell and Zuckerberg personally lost more than $7 billion. While the revenue lost only accounts for less than five percent of Facebook’s overall revenues, the lost confidence and trust from both the public and employees is significant.

This is a major plea from the public and civil rights organizations. Major corporations are listening and taking action. In our last blog post, we touched on the importance of active listening and the role it played in how Jack Dorsey skillfully navigated an overwhelming and complex situation. Again, we observe how this practice is being used by a range of CEOs, enabling companies to control their messaging and response by taking a pause. Zuckerberg continues his communications defense spree.

As the pressure mounts and Facebook’s policies are moving to match the #StopHateforProfit campaign, we cannot help but think, ‘What would this have looked like if Zuckerberg had hit pause and listened?’