Facebook is now trying to get ahead of what’s turned into a sizable boycott by advertisers of the platform and its sister platform Instagram.
After the weekend saw a few more major corporations such as Starbucks, Levi’s, Coca-Cola and Hershey join a list of 280 companies and counting to say they will pull ads from Facebook and Instagram through the month of July at the minimum, the company has quickly organized a virtual “roundtable” discussion with advertisers and ad agencies. Groups like Color of Change and the NAACP organized the boycott on the Juneteenth holiday in an effort to force Facebook leadership to enact a more aggressive policy on combating racist and hate speech on its platforms after years of failing to do so.
Some companies, like Unilever, have decided to pull all ads from social media for the rest of the year. While businesses that have joined the boycott were surely planning to cut ad spend due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Unilever is one that made sure to point out it is not reducing spend overall, merely shifting away from social platforms through 2020. Considering the massive amount of revenue Facebook pulls in from advertising on its platforms, it will take a boycott of much longer than a month by more than just Unilever to make a real impact on its business.
Nevertheless, Facebook seems to be working to tamp down the boycott if it can, although the organizers behind it appear to be in no mood for a compromise.
Set to speak to those who attend the Tuesday advertiser meeting are Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions; Neil Potts, Facebook’s director of public policy, and Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity. After they address the advertisers and agencies, there will be a question-and-answer session with pre-submitted questions.
“We look forward to answering your questions and sharing more about the steps we’re taking to keep our platform safe,” the invite reads.
Missing from the meeting is Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy. CoC as of Monday is calling for Kaplan to be fired, claiming he is part of the ongoing problem of the platform allowing racialized hate speech, even until last year white supremacist groups, on the platform. Kaplan became a target of public ire first in 2018, when he sat in support behind his friend, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as he was questioned by the Senate over accusations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. Ford was also publicly questioned.
Late last week founder, chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg responded to the boycott, saying Facebook will be going through (yet another) “civil rights audit” in an effort to address the major concerns of groups like CoC and the NAACP and he pledged $10 million to civil rights groups. He also said that, for the first time, Facebook will ban posts that incite violence or intend to suppress voting, both problems raised by the organizers of the boycott, specifically with regard to numerous posts made by President Trump. Posts deemed “newsworthy” that fall into either of those two categories will be labeled, Zuckerberg said, but not removed, something he’s refused to do before. But the organizers are not satisfied.
“At the same time that Mark Zuckerberg pledged $10 million to civil rights groups, Trump continued to call for violence against Black people protesting the murder of George Floyd,” CoC wrote in a statement. “The hypocrisy is astounding and we will not allow for the most influential social media program to think they can buy us off.”
CoC said there is still no clear policy for removing hate groups from Facebook and claims that Black users still have posts taken down when they discuss issues like racism, while posts by white nationalist groups and those that incite violence stay up.
“We are tired of your empty promises,” CoC said in a separate open letter to Zuckerberg. “We know that as long as Joel Kaplan is working at Facebook, the platform will never meaningfully address or remove hate. We demand that you immediately fire Joel Kaplan and apologize to your Black users and staff members who are being directly harmed by the hate and violence being spread on the platform.”
A Facebook spokeswoman did not comment on new calls for Kaplan to be fired, but said of the new meeting with advertisers: “It’s normal for us to have conversations with advertisers and discuss issues, including policy matters. This is something we do routinely and will keep doing.”
A notable holdout from the boycott so far is Procter & Gamble, which sources say has been in active discussions with the main groups behind the boycott, Color of Change and the NAACP regarding the effort. Facebook is still trying to schedule a meeting with those groups, as WWD reported last week. P&G is Facebook’s largest advertiser, spending $30 million on Facebook over the last two months alone and another $36 million on Instagram, according to data from Pathmatics, which tracks digital advertising.
Other major advertisers on the platforms that have yet to join the boycott are Amazon.com, which spent $17 million over the last two months across Facebook and Instagram; HBO, which spent $20 million; and Wish.com, which spent $14 million.
Of the larger companies that pulled out over the weekend, the largest advertiser was Hershey, which spent nearly $11 million over the past two months. Starbucks spent roughly $6 million and Coca-Cola spent less than $500,000.
It’s numbers like that — relatively little compared to Facebook’s $70.8 billion in 2019 revenue almost entirely from advertising — that have financial analysts not exactly worried. Despite a stock dip last week as Facebook waited to publicly address the boycott, the company’s stock is already on the rise, up 2 percent to $220 a share on Monday.
Rohit Kulkarni, an analyst for MKM Partners that follows Facebook, said in a Monday note that the company has more than eight million registered advertisers. He also noted that “Procter & Gamble is the largest advertiser in the world, but we think it accounts for less than 0.50% of FB’s revenues.”