A widespread ad boycott is taking place at Facebook, with telecoms giant Verizon the latest company to pause spending on the social network.
A campaign dubbed "Stop Hate for Profit" is urging businesses to show they will "not support a company that puts profit over safety" by ceasing Facebook advertising through July. It has gained significant traction in recent days.
Yesterday, Verizon joined Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, The North Face, Eddie Bauer, REI, Magnolia Pictures and Viber, confirming ads would be temporarily paused.
The final decision came after Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt published an open letter Thursday, which said his team found a Verizon Facebook ad was appearing next to a video with ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
The video claimed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is plotting civil war and U.S. citizens are being "quarantined in militarized districts."
A Verizon spokesperson said: "We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance when they are breached, we take action. We're pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we've done with YouTube and other partners."
According to CNBC, which reported Verizon spent $1,460,300 in Facebook advertising between May and June, the pause will also apply to Instagram.
What is the boycott about?
The boycott movement is being spearheaded by a coalition of civil rights groups—ADL, the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense.
They said in a statement last week it was needed in response to Facebook's "repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms."
The coalition elaborated: "[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 turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression on their platform. Could they protect and support Black users? Could they call out Holocaust denial as hate?... They absolutely could. But they are actively choosing not to do so," it added.
The campaign was launched amid nationwide anti-racism and Black lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25.
This month, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg declined to remove a post by Trump in which the president appeared to suggest authorities could start shooting looters.
Inside Facebook, some staff members openly protested the decision, staging a virtual walkout and voicing complaints via the rival social platform Twitter.
The six groups decided to target ads because that's how the platforms make money. "99 percent of Facebook's $70 billion is made through advertising," they wrote.
"Facebook's failure of leadership has actively stoked the racial hatred we see in our country," said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. "A key way for major corporations to demand racial justice is to withhold dollars until Facebook becomes more responsible and accountable to Black communities on the platform."
Who is involved so far?
A number of large brands are now supporting the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, with a spreadsheet compiled by Sleeping Giants being used to log every participant. Here are some of the bigger firms, and their social media statements about the cause:
What is Facebook's response?
On June 18, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was "committing over $200 million to support Black businesses and organizations" and "help drive progress."
He wrote on his personal account: "We've been speaking with Black business owners to understand how we can best support them, and in the short term, we've heard that financial support can go a long way, especially during a pandemic and economic downturn that have disproportionately impacted communities of color."
His statements came after his stance on Donald Trump's controversial Facebook post, which had used the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," was branded "incomprehensible" by a trio of leading civil rights leaders.
In relation to the ad boycott, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that executives are attempting to urge advertisers not to pause spending on the platform.
"We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure," business executive Carolyn Everson said in an email to advertisers last weekend, the paper reported. "We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests," Everson added.
In a statement this week, Facebook said it is currently working with civil rights groups. "We respect any brand's decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information," it said.
What do the experts say?
"Facebook is battling a trust and PR problem more than a real and immediate threat to its ad revenue," Matt Navarra, a social media industry commentator, consultant and host of the "Geekout" podcast, told Newsweek.
"It's more symbolic of the discontent among advertisers than anything else. Even though several well-known brands have slowly jumped on the Facebook ads boycott bandwagon in recent days, this still only represents a tiny fraction of the estimated seven million advertisers using its platform," Navarra continued.
The social media expert noted that YouTube faced a similar boycott in 2017 but quickly recovered and retained a dominant position with no long-term consequences.
He added: "Facebook will likely follow a similar path, but not before rival platforms and advertisers leverage the opportunity to try and bring about policy change.
"Facebook is facing attack from all corners right now, with outrage about its moderation decisions regarding President Trump's inflammatory posts, accusations of monopolistic behavior, data privacy concerns and more. The boycott has been added to the pile.
"Rival platforms and advertisers smell blood in the water, and are going in for the kill right now. However, Facebook will likely only suffer superficial wounds and public shaming in the longer term. Facebook is the world's best targeted ad platform. Advertisers will miss using it long before Facebook feels any real pain."
The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the scope of the Stop Hate for Profit advertising boycott on Facebook so far, based on the biggest spenders from 2018.
What will happen next?
It's unclear how wide the boycott will spread, however reports indicate that Procter & Gamble Co, a consumer goods giant and major spender on Facebook, will conduct a review of its ad platforms and won't run advertising close to content that is found to be "hateful" or "discriminatory," Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported.
Djamel Agaoua, the CEO of messaging service Viber, said yesterday his company was cutting business ties with Facebook, using the hashtag #StopHateForProfit.
He said: "Viber will remove all Facebook-related contact points from our app including Facebook Connect, Facebook SDK, and GIPHY, as well as cease all ad spending. Companies must take a clear stand on recent issues and draw the line."
Facebook has been contacted for any additional comment by Newsweek.