July 12, 2020

Advertising Boycott Pressures Facebook to Be Internet Referee



Not standing out as an internet arbitrator is the maxim of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a bet that has now been complicated by the advertising boycott of some large companies that consider this policy has turned the social network into a “platform of hatred” .

This is the last episode of a debate that has accompanied the platform since its inception and which essentially involves defining the nature of a social network to which a third of humanity connects at least once a month: Is Facebook a simple forum in which everyone shares what they want or is it the largest means of communication on the planet?

The current boycott, promoted by organizations for the defense of civil rights in the US and which have been explicitly or implicitly supported by companies such as Coca-Cola, Verizon, Adidas, Ford or the British-Dutch consumer products group Unilever (one of the world’s biggest advertisers) wants Zuckerberg’s company to more aggressively moderate what they consider “hate messages.”

BOYCOT LIMITED IMPACT

Entering fully into content moderation, however, “would mean prohibiting or restricting a large amount of political debate,” eMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom explains to Efe, who believes that, despite the current pressures, it is not a realistic possibility for the social network.

According to Haggstrom, the companies that are withdrawing their advertising investment do not constitute a large percentage of the total income of Facebook, since the platform (which also owns Instagram) is fed by eight million advertisers, the vast majority of which are small and medium, and many of them providers of services or digital products.

“If we were talking about a television network, losing Unilever or Coca-Cola advertising would be very important, but not so much in the case of Facebook,” says the analyst.

The companies that really depend on the social network for their advertising are not those that target a general public, but those that want to optimize their investment by targeting specific groups, such as mobile video game companies, of applications such as Match Group (owners from Tinder) or e-commerce; and the latter, for the moment, do not participate in the boycott.

OPPORTUNISM OF THE SIGNATURES?

It is also worth asking whether the apparent enthusiasm with which these multinationals have joined the campaign does not hide other reasons, given that in the current context of pandemic and economic crisis, many large companies have already advanced cuts in their advertising budget.

“It is a good way for advertisers to cut spending and put a good public relations story at the same time,” says Haggstrom in this regard, so he believes that direct rivals to Facebook like Twitter or Snap will not benefit from the boycott.

In this regard, some of the companies that allegedly participate in the boycott such as Starbucks, Ford, Unilever, Coca-Cola or the manufacturer of alcoholic beverages Diageo have suspended all their advertising investment in social networks, not only on Facebook and Instagram.

THE FACEBOOK ANSWER

The Menlo Park (California, USA) firm, for its part, is trying to avoid the controversy with timid changes in its policies and, above all, in its communication strategy, which has abandoned the categorical “no” of yesteryear that Zuckerberg received so much criticism from the media, politicians and civil leaders.

Thus, you have agreed to undergo an external audit on the methods you use to prevent advertisements from appearing alongside messages that may be considered hateful, and you have promised to alert users when a politician or someone of public relevance issues a message that violates its rules of use.

This last point is one of the most contentious, because the boycott derives in part from Facebook’s refusal to censor, partially hide or place alerts on messages from US President Donald Trump, something that Twitter has been doing since May when you consider that you advocate violence or share false information.

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