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How the Facebook Boycott (Most Likely) Ends

7 MINUTE READ | June 29, 2020

How the Facebook Boycott (Most Likely) Ends

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

PMG is providing customers with a 2/week Summer Briefing filled with analysis and commentary on the marketing and business news that’s making headlines. The briefing for June 29th, 2020 was sent to PMG customers this morning and can be found below.

Happy Monday, and welcome back to a new Summer Briefing by PMG. 

Last Friday, Fortnite players around the world had front row seats to an in-game “Movie Nite” featuring three Christopher Nolan movies (for free) via a digital cinema-style screening experience. It was the first time Epic Games had attempted to show full films in-game, previously only holding eccentric virtual concerts and movie trailers debuts. 

With feature film releases delayed and theater reopenings in the real world still TBD, Epic Games’ successful partnerships with Disney, DC Comics, Warner Bros., and more entertainment companies may come in handy, possibly with “Movie Nites” substituting summer blockbusters in the weeks to come. 

Now onto the news.

As we head further into the sunnier days of the season, one truth is abundantly clear: society is facing a myriad of crises, all at once. By my tally: a global pandemic followed by disproportionate responses, and now, an unanticipated surge in the States, record unemployment at the cusp of a presumed economic depression, a social justice movement featuring nationwide civil unrest, rapid policy changes and self-education initiatives, and the global reckoning of racial inequality. Add to that an election year accompanied by contentious politics, as well as the grim reality that the digital platforms keeping us connected, entertained (and in some cases, employed) through all the above have been facing their own challenges via antitrust investigations, a digital advertising boycott, as well as misinformation and hate speech, claims of voter suppression, and calls for stricter moderation.

But we’re a resilient group. US consumer spending rebounded in May, and many countries are showing positive signs of COVID-19 containment and slow economic recovery. This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Pride march in New York City, and many (virtual and physical) celebrations ensued. 

Last week, Verizon and Unilever were the latest among the 150+ other businesses to join the #StopHateForProfit boycott against tech companies, a sign of protest against Facebook’s policy on hate speech, misinformation, and other nefarious content. Facebook stock dropped 8 percent on Friday in reaction to the Unilever announcement.

It seemed as if announcements from high-profile brands joining the boycott were rolling in by the minute late last week, and in a memo to advertisers, Facebook promised an external audit of its safety tools and practices as well as press interviews detailing specifics with high-ranking executives, such as Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs and communication. 

Hours after the Unilever announcement, Facebook publicly shared new measures first via a Facebook post by Mark Zuckerberg. In the announcement post, Zuckerberg confirmed new steps toward curbing hate speech. The platform will also now flag posts by politicians and other prominent figures that may otherwise violate its community guidelines as “newsworthy,” reversing Facebook’s previous stance against labeling controversial speech and content.

History shows that Facebook is aligned with the majority of the organizer’s demands: curb hate speech, provide support to people who are targets of racism and hate, and to increase safety for groups on the platform. 

Hate speech: In recent years, the company has spent billions of dollars to fight hate speech on the app, with both Facebook data and a new EU report showing that the company identifies (and removes) up to ~89 percent of hate speech, up from 23 percent just three years ago. Like most things, closing the gap on that last ten percent will be the most challenging.

Provide support and safety to targeted groups: From NBC’s Byers Market, “Since 2018, the company has enlisted ACLU veteran Laura Murphy to run an annual civil rights audit. Every year, that audit identifies areas where Facebook needs to make progress with respect to racism and hate. Murphy has just concluded her third audit, and Facebook will likely post her findings within a matter of weeks (last year’s findings were posted on June 30th). Those findings will inform ⁠— and would have informed ⁠— how Facebook thinks about the very issues that the civil rights groups have called on the company to address.”

As of today, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Diageo are the latest to say they will pause advertising across all social media platforms until these tech companies “take greater steps to curb hate speech.” And first reported by Reuters this morning, the #StopHateForProfit campaign will “begin calling on major companies in Europe to join the boycott,” as a way to take the movement global.

It seems as though Facebook’s Friday content policy changes did little to slow the boycott’s momentum.

The (likely) end result: If history can be used to predict the future, Facebook is already scheduled to share policy changes that result from its annual civil rights audit around this time of year. When it does, there will likely be more details outlining new ways the platform plans to increase support and safety ahead of the 2020 US election, like the voting drive and moderation and transparency hiring sprees that have already occurred. The timing here is critical. These revisions will likely be interpreted as compromises to the boycotts (despite being a result of its self-implemented audit and long-standing efforts to stifle hate on the platform), thus giving advertisers the go-ahead to restart digital advertising efforts.

The world hit two grim milestones this weekend, with 10M confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide and more than 500,000 deaths. According to recent tallies, the US accounts for over 25 percent of each of these figures. More than one in five cases recorded “during the entirety of the pandemic came in the last two weeks alone.” 

We may be past peak lockdown, but now, states are rolling back reopening plans after surges in caseloads hit states across the US. PMG’s home state (Texas) reentered a quasi-lockdown with restaurants reverting to more limited capacity, bars closing, and restrictions to outdoor activities like tubing.

Of the safety restrictions in contention: masks

On the global stage: Latin America is the new global epicenter, cases in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are rising quickly, and day after day, the US and Brazil record the most cases. India’s outbreak will likely surpass the caseloads in the US and Brazil in the coming weeks

Monday: Marketing Brew launch

Tuesday: Conagra and FedEx earnings report

Wednesday: Happy July! EU reopens to visitors, American Airlines will allow flights to fill to capacity, Russia national referendum voting ends, the NAFTA trade agreement replacement, United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, goes into effect. 

Thursday: June jobs report, unemployment claims, General Mills earnings report

Friday: Hamilton arrives on Disney+

The Weekend: Independence Day celebrations

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See you back on Thursday.