Over the last four years, the world’s most popular social network has seen its fair share of scandals and difficulties, but none has hit as hard as the ongoing “Stop the Hate for Profit” campaign mounted by companies such as Coca-Cola, The North Face, the Ford Motor Company, REI, Unilever, and about 420 others as of June 30. What these brands want is clear: They do not want to advertise on a network where hate speech and extremist content are freely published.
The ball dropped for Facebook in mid-June, when the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League spotted worrisome content posted by counter-protesters opposed to the global George Floyd movement against police brutality and racial injustice. Other civil rights groups got involved and urged major brands to reconsider their advertising on Facebook. It did not take long for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to get involved by contacting powerful connections in their respective black books and adding more momentum to the situation.
In the beginning, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was relentless; he did not wish to back down on the basis of free speech. Once Wall Street investors noticed the scandal, they responded in the best way they know, which is by dumping shares of the company. Facebook’s market capitalization dropped by about $70 billion, of which $6 billion represents stocks owned by Zuckerberg. It was then that executives began to address the concerns of advertisers. Facebook has even agreed to being audited by third-party evaluators for the purpose of finding the best ways to detect and suppress free speech.
You can see the advertisers that have joined the boycott by looking at this Google spreadsheet. A back of a napkin calculation suggests that their collective advertising brings Facebook about $5 billion each year, a drop in the bucket when you consider the $70 billion that the company rakes in on annual basis because most revenue is derived from small business advertising. Upon closer inspection of the spreadsheet, we see names such as WingStop and Mellow Monkey Decor; there are even Etsy shops supporting the boycott, which means that it has wings.
Zuckerberg may have a point when he talks about Facebook being a platform that supports free speech in its purest form, but allowing the malaise of racial intolerance and bigotry is pushing things too far. Let’s not forget that Facebook has already faced scandals related to toxic propaganda, misinformation, and election interference. As a company that relies on advertising for about 80% of profitable revenue, Facebook cannot afford to let this boycott continue for very long.