The campaign against Facebook has metastasised, as big brands increasingly decide all social media is too toxic for them.
This is a period of unprecedented crisis for social media, which is saying something. What started as an apparently politically motivated attack on Facebook has snowballed, such that most major brands are now having a rethink about advertising on any social media, regardless of their censorship policies, due to the inherently uncontrollable nature of the content they host.
For some reason the corporate world seems to have suddenly realised that social media is different from traditional media and that the content you find on it is, by design, impossible to control. Social media companies increasingly try to censor their users in a futile bid to ensure only advertiser-friendly content appears, but it now appears their efforts have been in vain.
One after another major US advertisers are deciding that, in the current cultural environment, they’re not prepared to risk their brand being positioned next to contentious content. While Verizon singled out Facebook, massive consumer-facing companies such as Unilever, Diageo and Starbucks have announced a wholesale move of their advertising spend towards regular media, which they presumably find easier to control.
Diageo statement on social media advertising pause. pic.twitter.com/kRIsdFjgzk
— Diageo News (@Diageo_News) June 27, 2020
BREAKING: @Starbucks pulling advertising from Facebook (and all other social media platforms)
Starbucks is a major Facebook advertiser, spending $95 million on the platform last year pic.twitter.com/i5baH12ezM
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) June 28, 2020
“Given our Responsibility Framework and the polarized atmosphere in the U.S., we have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media newsfeed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S.” said a Unilever statement. “Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society. We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary. We will maintain our total planned media investment in the U.S. by shifting to other media.”
While none of the above companies have made direct reference to the #StopHateForProfit campaign, that hasn’t stopped its representatives and anyone with an apparent agenda against Facebook from unilaterally claiming them as allies.
Great news for #StopHateForProfit! @Starbucks and @Diageo_News have joined us in calling on FB to stop amplifying hate. Investors have spoken, too. FB’s stock lost $55.8 Billion in value on Friday, equivalent to entire value of Twitter and Snap. https://t.co/f9PmKa4LAc
— Roger McNamee (@Moonalice) June 28, 2020
The main thing the campaign seems to have achieved is to tip corporate America into concluding that paying to give their brands prominence on social media potentially does more harm than good to them. With a general election imminent, the level of partisan vitriol is bound to increase and companies have, quite sensibly, decided they’re better off out of the whole mess.
Meanwhile a new challenger to Twitter appears to have hit critical mass. Parler has seen its user base increase by hundreds of thousands in recent days, apparently as a result of a spate of account suspensions by Twitter itself. Parler makes a virtue of not censoring its users, a policy that is inevitably attractive to people that have been censored or banned from the dominant platforms.
Facebook and Twitter appear to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, in which their advertisers demand a level of censorship many of their users find unacceptable. However, many of the companies abandoning them are sticking with YouTube, which seems to have solved the puzzle of keeping brands and controversy apart. Facebook’s latest attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted seems futile and it will need to take even more radical action before it wins back the trust of corporate America.