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Social Issues Take National Priority

11 MINUTE READ | June 8, 2020

Social Issues Take National Priority

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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.

Welcome back to the (new!) PMG Summer Briefing series. We hope you had a meaningful weekend, whether it was through rest or action. 

In today’s briefing, we’re covering:

  • Social issues take priority 

  • COVID-19 updates

  • Social tech moderation

  • The week ahead

Let’s jump in.

Around the US, protests against police brutality and racism appeared calm as protesters turned out in the thousands on city streets that looked incredibly different from the weekend before. By most accounts, violent clashes between protesters and police have declined significantly, and as of this weekend, the National Guard began withdrawing from Washington D.C. Most cities have ended nightly curfews, and on Saturday, more than 10,000 gathered peacefully in D.C. while Philadelphia’s Center City closed to make way for protesters. 

The public discourse around racism and police brutality in America is gaining momentum and quickly spreading around the world with powerful displays of unity and solidarity coming from protests outside American embassies and throughout the streets in South Africa, Australia, the UK, and more. In a unifying move, K-pop’s BTS pledged $1M to Black Lives Matter, and in a matter of hours, fans raised enough to match their donation

The latest: As the Black Lives Matter movement evolves, many protesters are now encouraging initiatives to defund the police. In recent news, Minneapolis City Council members “intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department” and rebuild a “new model of public safety” in partnership with the community. The Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey reiterated he doesn’t support the move, though a veto-proof majority of the City Council was in favor of the change. It will likely set off a complicated debate across the nation in the coming weeks.

As calls for action and reform grow louder, the world’s largest corporations are trying to engage in public conversations and respond to the moment. From The Wall Street Journal

“YouTube encouraged employees to take last Tuesday off to participate in protests. At Facebook, a few hundred employees held a virtual walkout in protest over Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up President Trump’s post, saying ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ Goldman Sachs Groups asked bank employees to ‘check-in with each other’ and be willing to have conversations outside their comfort zones about race and discrimination. CEOs of some of the largest companies in the US have issued statements directly denouncing racism this week, and business leaders more broadly have spoken about coming to the realization that sometimes it is important for them to speak out on social issues.” 

Earlier last week, countless companies and retailers participated in #BlackOutTuesday by posting black squares on social media, and later, releasing statements condemning racism and calling for unity. These public responses by some brands initiated further review, facilitating challenging conversations as followers asked questions about what a brand has done and will do moving forward to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Black communities, and racial equality initiatives. From Business of Fashion, “Some see an evolution in corporate activism underway, where brands will be held accountable if their internal cultures don’t match their public values.”

Related: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued a public pledge of support to the Black Lives Matter movement on Friday “in a reply to a customer email criticizing his company’s response to the death of George Floyd and ongoing protests around the country against racism and police brutality. Bezos posted his reply publicly on Instagram,” a unique, oddly personal move for a CEO during this time. 

According to AdAge, many brands are pausing Pride campaigns as joining conversations and demonstrations around racial justice take priority. By AdAge’s count, Verizon, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, PepsiCo’s Bubly, Boston Beer Co.’s Truly hard seltzer, and GLAAD’s Ally, Skittles, Tinder, and WEE initiative are on hold until it feels appropriate to resume. 

Source: WSJ/NBC News

A new Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll made headlines this weekend, showing that 80% of respondents feel the country is “spiraling out of control.” Between the global pandemic, historic job losses, the road to economic recovery, and now, policy changes through public discourse and civil unrest, we are witnessing history unfold as we stand on the edge of significant change on more fronts than ever before. 

In related news, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned his board seat and pledged his future gains to serve the Black community, urging Reddit to fill his board vacancy with a Black candidate. The NFL first issued a statement, then an apology from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying the NFL was ‘wrong’ to not listen to players and will now support players’ civil rights protests

Las Vegas casinos reopened this weekend as businesses and cities across the country hum back to life. New York begins its phased reopening today, and while some harder-hit areas work to keep their numbers down, other states see coronavirus cases climb. From The Wall Street Journal, “California, Utah, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas, among others, have all logged rises in confirmed cases, according to a Johns Hopkins tabulation of a five-day moving average.” Across countries, protests have complicated coronavirus containment as cities try to expand testing and contact tracing while managing crises surrounding social unrest. The World Health Organization now recommends wearing masks in public. In South America, Brazil has stopped publishing its case count and death toll as protests erupt in the country over the government’s handling of the pandemic

On Friday, it was reported that employers added 2.5M jobs in May, a small sign of economic recovery. This week’s Federal Reserve meetings and Thursday’s jobless claims report will provide more insight into the likely shape of economic recovery in the US. An anticipated second decline in three weeks would suggest that “rehires are starting to outpace layoffs.” In the sports world, the NBA is set to return July 31st with just 22 teams playing, and the PGA Tour is scheduled to pick back up later this week. Friday’s University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment for the opening weeks of June “will capture a slow reopening of the economy but also rising social unrest as Americans protested the killing of George Floyd.”

The events of the past few months have allowed us time to reflect and reset, adjust priorities, and focus on what truly matters. And nowhere is this active self-review more prevalent than in media and tech. 

After a tumultuous few days, Mark Zuckerberg released a statement on Friday saying, “Facebook would review its policy around speech promoting state violence,” a move that comes after internal and external protests over his decision to take no action on President Trump’s posts about looters. Zuckerberg “has been steadfast in his defense of Facebook’s stance on Trump’s posts, erring on the side of free speech even as Twitter placed warnings on similar tweets and Snapchat announced it would no longer promote the president’s content.” 

For those who aren’t keeping track, here’s what you might have missed:

  • 5/29 — President Trump posts inflammatory comments on social media. Twitter places a warning on the tweet, and Zuckerberg admits he had a ‘visceral negative reaction’ but that the post is permitted to stay on Facebook.

  • 6/1 — Facebook employees hold a virtual walkout against Facebook’s handling of President Trump’s posts.

  • 6/2 — A Facebook engineer publicly resigns in protest, Zuckerberg defends the company’s decision in an internal meeting. A prominent Silicon Vally VC urges the public and advertisers to boycott Facebook. 

  • 6/4 — Snapchat announces it will no longer promote President Trump’s content in the Discover section. Not directly related to this crisis, but Facebook announced it would label state-controlled media on the platform ahead of election season

  • 6/5 — In leaked audio, LinkedIn executives said the platform would “restrict Trump” if he used the platform to incite violence or spread misinformation. Zuckerberg promises Facebook will re-examine its rules on posts related to state violence.

It’s an age-old debate plaguing technology and social media platforms: Is social media a public square? Is freedom of speech the same as freedom of reach? I’m not here to answer those questions but know that there are many, many things platforms are doing to address these issues and thread this particular needle, including the aforementioned actions. Take, for instance, Reddit, which “quarantines” problematic communities so they can continue to exist but “can’t infect the rest of the platform.” Snapchat’s decision is another solution. Rather than flagging or removing content, its strategy was to not promote the information on its curation channels. 

One thing is for sure: Issues concerning moderation, political advertising, and freedom of speech will take up more of the spotlight the closer we get to November 2020 in America. 

Last Wednesday was one for the social media history books. Twitter’s mobile app was downloaded 677,000 times, the company’s best-ever one-day performance, according to app tracker Apptopia, as public debate roared to life across current events, including the George Floyd protests, Donald Trump’s tweets, and The New York Times op-ed drama. That same day, Twitter set a record for active daily users with 40M people using the app in the US.

In social listening data pulled from Brandwatch on June 7th, conversations around Black Lives Matter exceeded mentions of COVID-19 with Twitter as the platform of choice for public discourse.

Source: Brandwatch

Source: Brandwatch

From Byer’s Market, “James Bennet has resigned as editorial page editor of The New York Times, the dramatic conclusion to four days of internal turmoil over the controversial op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.” Many internal changes have been made along with a lengthy note added to the top of Cotton’s op-ed as a result of the growing issue of free speech and moderation. Through public protests (which largely took place on Twitter), Times journalists denounced the op-ed and urged the Times to reassess its approach to opinion journalism. Now, The New York Times is faced with public pressure to rethink how it weighs “its commitment to objectivity and neutrality against taking a moral stance on issues like racial injustice, police brutality, and state power.”

It’s just one of the several media controversies in recent days. Fox News has also apologized for an insensitive graphic attempting to correlate the stock market with the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Martin Luther King Jr., and Michael Brown. Philadelphia Inquirer’s executive editor stepped down after his headline “Buildings Matter, Too” was seen as insensitive. 

Personal note: I was enthralled by the challenges facing the media industry over the weekend, and learned a new word in the process of endlessly refreshing my Twitter feed to keep up with the news. Doomscrolling — the act of spending “inordinate amounts of time poring over grim news.” 

From The Information, regulatory agencies are intensifying their probe of Google’s business practices, and the discussion in “Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley has shifted from whether the Justice Department will sue Google for anticompetitive behavior to when it will do so.” In particular, antitrust regulators continue their examination of Google’s business practices with a key focus being Google’s ad technology. 

Some experts agree that an antitrust case focused on ad tech rather than search would be advantageous to Google given the diversification of online ad spend (social, programmatic, search, brand media, etc.). In contrast, nearly 9 out of 10 internet searches in the US happen on Google, while social ad spend — particularly via Facebook rather than Google — dominates the digital ad spend flywheel, according to eMarketer, though Politico says differently. Now, marketers have joined the fight with three online advertisers suing Google for allegedly violating antitrust laws by monopolizing “digital advertising markets.” Similar regulators in Australia, France, Germany, and the UK are examining similar issues concerning Google’s dominance in advertising. 

  • Monday — New York begins phased reopening. Nonessential retail, manufacturing, and construction sites can resume operations. 

  • Tuesday — JOLTS report, funeral service for George Floyd in Houston, TX.

  • Wednesday — Federal Reserve meeting concludes, MLB Draft begins.

  • Thursday — Jobless claims, PGA tour tees off right here in PMG’s hometown (Fort Worth, TX). 

  • Friday — University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment, California permits Hollywood to get back to work.

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