A protest movement against Facebook – specifically, Facebook’s response to hateful content on its platform – is gathering real momentum.
On Tuesday (June 23), The New York Times reported that a number of high-profile brands were pulling ads from the platform, and boycotting future advertising activity both on the Facebook site and/or on Facebook-owned Instagram. Those brands included clothing companies such as Eddie Bauer, Patagonia and the North Face, in addition to movie distributor Magnolia Pictures and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s.
Magnolia Pictures says that it is “seeking meaningful change at Facebook and the end to their amplification of hate speech”, while Ben & Jerry’s has called on Mark Zuckerberg to “to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy”.
The boycott has been sparked by misinformation being spread by users on Facebook during global anti-racist Black Lives Matter protests earlier this month. In addition, Facebook last month declined to adjust or delete posts from President Donald Trump which mirrored those messages that Twitter had flagged as “misleading or glorifying violence”.
On Thursday (June 25), things got more serious. Verizon, the biggest telco in the United States with a ≈$220bn market cap, announced it too was boycotting Facebook and Instagram. Marketing analytics company Pathmatics estimates that between May 22nd and June 20th, Verizon spent nearly $1.5 million on Facebook ads, and an additional $500,000 on Instagram.
Verizon’s Chief Media Officer, John Nitti, told CNBC: “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.”
And today (June 26), British household goods giant Unilever – with its ≈$146bn market cap – has joined the boycott, stating it will pull advertising from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter through to the end of 2020 due to “the polarized atmosphere in the U.S.”
Unilever added: “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.”
[UPDATE: Facebook, under pressure from the advertiser boycott, has just revealed new hate speech and misinformation policies in a surprise announcement (June 26). The Guardian reports: “Facebook will now take on an approach similar to that of Twitter, labeling posts that may violate its policies but are allowed to remain on the platform because they are deemed newsworthy.”]
Over in the music industry, then, it’s decision time.
Earlier this month, the three major music companies – Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group – collectively donated nearly quarter of a billion dollars to social justice and anti-racist causes in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This week, MBW spotted that Warner Music Group has begun hiring for a global Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in order to help it “cultivate a diverse and inclusive culture, promoting real transformation against the backdrop of a hyper-aware industry conscience”.
Could music’s biggest companies now consider joining the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever and Verizon in blacklisting Facebook from their ad spending?
“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.”
Two factors might complicate that decision. The first is the sheer importance of Facebook and Instagram to the music business in the ongoing promotion of artists and their campaigns. According to Facebook’s Q1 2020 earnings statement, the website attracts 2.60 billion active monthly users globally; Instagram has long said that it reaches over a billion people.
The second factor is the music industry’s close partnership with Facebook as a digital service, following a set of licensing deals in late 2017 and early 2018, which sources suggest saw hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced cash paid to the majors and indie body Merlin.
A key agitator in the Facebook ad boycott is Color Of Change, a US-based racial justice organization with 1.7 million members.
Color of Change’s Stop Hate For Profit campaign is calling on companies across the world to halt advertising on Facebook platforms in July in order to “show Facebook that enough is enough” and force FB to “address racism across their platforms”.
The Stop Hate For Profit campaign has been backed by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ). Interestingly, Universal Music Group recently earmarked Color Of Change as a recipient of a portion of the $25 million it is committing to anti-racist causes.
Some significant players in the music business are already breaking ranks and speaking out on Facebook. Cooking Vinyl, UK-based independent label and home to artists such as Billy Bragg, Marilyn Manson and The Darkness, says it is proudly participating in Color Of Change’s Stop Hate For Profit campaign.
“Tangible change to stop the spread of racism and hate online requires the social media giants to be held accountable for their actions. It was a simple decision for us to get involved in this campaign in whatever way possible.”
Lewis Newson, Cooking Vinyl
Cooking Vinyl is recommending to its artists not to advertise on Facebook and Instagram during the month of July, “pending meaningful action from the social media giant”.
The company said in a statement issued to MBW: “Our company and our artists stand in solidarity with the values of freedom, equality and justice. By not advertising on [Facebook] during July, which has been known to turn a blind eye to voter repression and hate to Black users, we hope we can play our part in sending Facebook the powerful message that their profits will never be worth promoting hate, racism and violence.”
Cooking Vinyl’s Head of Digital, Lewis Newson, added: “Tangible change to stop the spread of racism and hate online requires the social media giants to be held accountable for their actions. It was a simple decision for us to get involved in this campaign in whatever way possible.”
Cooking Vinyl says it is “asking all music industry companies and bodies to consider supporting this campaign”.
At the time of writing, July is just five days away.Music Business Worldwide