Facebook: with the ad pause over is now the time for change?

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

On the surface, July’s ‘advertising pause’ on Facebook called for by Stop Hate for Profit appears a success; over 1,100 companies participated including some of the world’s largest brands (and top Facebook spenders), it generated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic and motivated politicians to write to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg urging Facebook to do more to address hate speech.

This boycott was never about denting Facebook finances and the group wisely only asked for brands to ‘pause’ for one month on order to achieve a higher number of participants. However, now that the suggested period of pausing ad spend has ended some brands have been left with the question: what next?

Facebook has not directly taken action on the ten points Stop Hate for Profit requested to be addressed, instead creating a seven-point plan of its own, and when civil rights advocates behind Stop Hate for Profit met Facebook they were unimpressed, stating it treated the meeting merely as a “public relations exercise”.

What next for brands and consumers?

With the boycott over and not satisfied, Stop Hate for Profit will continue its cause but hasn’t overtly called on advertisers to join. The question of what next for brands is trickier; although some (Coca-Cola, Unilever) remain committed to not spending, overall, it seems that most advertisers who paused have now returned to Facebook.

So, what next? It is likely this event will give more organisations the impetus to make a stand for change and we can expect to see brands being more conscious of their role as an advertiser including where they spend budgets, who is featured in the ads and, as a result, joining alliances such as The Conscious Advertising Network or Global Alliance for Responsible Media.

In July advertisers we asked to take action to pressure Facebook, could we see Stop Hate for Profit call for a user boycott next? Social media users have a role to play too if they believe the platforms aren’t protecting them and as Facebook Q2 results showed daily and monthly active users rose 12% year-on-year they haven’t turned away.

Equally, other groups such as UK based Stop Funding Fake News and Stop Funding Hate and Sleeping Giants in the US could also begin to pressure Facebook or others in the run up to the US Presidential elections in November.

Such is the nature of social media platforms there will always be bad actors who misuse the system. If brands and consumers wish to use social media, with all its benefits, they must understand its flaws, and those who voice the need for change should play a part in making it happen.

Whilst July's ad pause was focused on hate speech within Facebook, organisations are currently reacting and adapting to many other recent social awareness movements such as MeToo and BLM and we are seeing change such as Chief Equity Officer and Chief Diversity Officer roles, better internal inclusion governance and a push to increase in female and BAME representation. This aptitude for change must also apply across the digital ecosystem and brands and consumers should play a more active part for a safer, more equitable, less fraudulent and transparent internet.

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