Facebook’s stated corporate purpose is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Facebook’s stated corporate purpose is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” But in recent months, the social media agent has been acting in ways that are in direct contravention to this noble purpose, and in fact has contributed to sowing division and discord in the world – all in its chase for their twin holy grails of growth and engagement, regardless of the cost to the fabric of our society and our democracy.
On June 17, a coalition consisting of Color Of Change, NAACP, ADL, Sleeping Giants, Free Press, and Common Sense Media called on Facebook’s advertisers to hit pause on ad spending on Facebook and Instagram for July 2020 to demand that Facebook address racism across their platforms via the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. As the Color of Change website states: “From the monetization of hate speech to discrimination in their algorithms to the proliferation of voter suppression to the silencing of Black voices, Facebook has refused to take responsibility for hate, bias, and discrimination growing on their platforms. And what has allowed Facebook to continue racist practices is the $70B of revenue from corporations every year. Companies have a choice to make about whether they want their businesses featured on Facebook’s platforms side-by-side with racist attacks on Black people.”
In short, companies who have publicly stated support for Black Lives Matter on their social media channels, need to take a long hard look at whether their ad dollars are undermining their lofty words by funding a platform which directly contravenes their values.
The Stop Hate For Profit website goes even further in its condemnation: “(Facebook) allowed incitement to violence against protesters fighting for racial justice in America in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and so many others. They named Breitbart News a ‘trusted news source’ and made The Daily Caller a ‘fact checker’ despite both publications having records of working with known white nationalists. They turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression on their platform.”
Provide more support to people who are targets of racism, antisemitism and hate
Create a separate moderation pipeline for users who express that they have been targeted because of specific identity characteristics such as race or religion. This pipeline must include experts on various forms of identity-based hate.
Create a threshold of harm on the platform where they will put a target of hate and harassment in touch with a live Facebook employee to help them address their concerns.
Release data from their existing reporting form around identity-based hate. For example, how many reports of hate speech based on race or ethnicity did they get in 2019? How many, and what kinds of actions were taken?
Stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content.
Create internal mechanisms (for every media format on every Facebook platform) that automatically remove all ads from content labeled as misinformation or hate.
Change the advertising portal on all Facebook products to tell advertisers how often their ads were shown next to content that was later removed for misinformation or hate.
Provide refunds to advertisers for those advertisements
Prove it: send out an audited transparency report specifically addressing these suggestions.
Increase Safety in Private Groups on Facebook.
At the request of a member of a private group, provide at least one Facebook-affiliated moderator per group with more than 150 members. Consider more moderators for even larger groups.
Create an internal mechanism to automatically flag content in private groups associated with extremist ideologies for human review. This content and associated groups would then be reviewed by internal subject matter experts on extremism.
It should be noted that this external revolt is in solidarity with those brave employees of Facebook who are standing up for the values of the company, via walkouts, resignations and open protests. I personally have friends at the company whom I respect and admire, I’ve worked with Facebook in the past with my consultancy Conspiracy of Love, and I’ve met the wonderful men and women who work there. I applaud everyone there who has stood up for what they believe the companies values are. This is what true employee activism looks like, when you are forced to become the moral conscience of your company, even if it means putting you at odds with your leadership.
I spoke to one of the leaders behind the boycott, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP who said, “The flagrant disregard Facebook has shown in putting a stop to the hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform exemplifies a lack of concern for the greater public and nullifies any notion of corporate social responsibility coming from its leadership. Any brand that claims to have the best interest of its consumers in mind should undoubtedly join the #StopHateForProfit campaign. Facebook is ultimately damaging its credibility with the American public, and any company that wants to avoid doing the same should send a message that we will no longer accept disinformation during this critical time.”
One of the first companies to pull their money was Talkspace, an online platform I’ve written about which provides online mental health counselling. CEO Oren Frank offered this blunt assessment. “I think that Facebook made a clear mistake by not removing or adding a warning to a message that was inciting violence, and it should really have been a simple decision to make after Twitter showed them how to do the right thing. I encourage everyone that can help, in any way shape or form, to push Facebook towards authentic ownership of the content and the impact of its platform. This isn’t about politics or ideology, but about basic decency and responsibility.” On June 3, Sara Spivey, the CMO of the marketing technology company Braze, tweeted that she was “reallocating dollars planned for Facebook to other places” and called on “fellow marketers” to follow.
The North Face was the first large brand to join the campaign (now followed by REI, Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, Upwork, Eddie Bauer, Arc’teryx, Magnolia Pictures, and many more). I caught up with Steve Lesnard, CMO of The North Face to find out how the brand took the decision. “We believe that in this cultural moment of pain, that normal is not good enough, and we all need to drive positive change immediately. And we believe that action speaks louder than words. So when we saw the NAACP announcement, we very quickly just aligned and said, you know what, we’re going to do this. We’re going to do this, so that we can really make a statement and hopefully challenge and inspire Facebook to really take a hard look at their policies for stricter rules on hate speech, racist rhetoric, and the spread of misinformation. The stakes are too high, with what’s coming in our society and we need to act immediately.We want to see strict rules on hate speech and racist rhetoric, in discriminating against misinformation. And so, we hope that Facebook will come back with the point of view on how they want address it. And that’s the dialogue that we’re looking for.”
What is also unprecedented has been digital media agencies like 360i (who have clients like McCormick & Co, Discover Financial Services and Unilever) advising clients to join the boycott. One of the first voices to publicly stand up was Elijah Harris, a senior vice president at IPG Mediabrands, whose powerful piece on LinkedIn is a must-read.
I asked him the question: While we’ve seen major brands come out and boycott Facebook, it is quite brave and rare for a digital media agency to do so. What do you think the moral obligation is for agencies to advise their clients against accidentally or deliberately funding platforms that incite violence? Is it a question of brand safety or something bigger than that?
“Ideally, the agency-client relationship is based on shared values, which would create a standard set of behaviors and beliefs that govern what is and is not acceptable from media partners. With this type of understanding, it’s less of a moral obligation to advise clients, and should just be part of the job. People are fed up with recent events including the senseless killings of black Americans, paired with Facebook’s decision to allow potentially harmful content to go unchecked on its platform. Marketers and consumers alike want change. It should not have taken these extreme circumstances for the industry to take a stand, but I believe we have a real opportunity to create change, drive accountability and most importantly, protect people,” said Harris.