Hate issue costs Facebook billions
Advertisers have found their moral backbone and are forcing the company to take its systemic problems seriously
Fifty-six billion dollars. That’s how much Facebook’s share price lost on Friday after news that consumer giant Unilever would pull its advertising for the rest of the year. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth took a $7bn hit.
After years of ignoring its biggest problem, Facebook is finally confronted by its inability to control disinformation, hate speech and the insidious rise of posts relating to white supremacy (and all its viciousness) on its platform. Years of promises to do better and to fix problems — by bringing in external fact checkers and deleting malicious and bot accounts — haven’t stopped controversies from rocking the world’s biggest social network. As Star Wars character Yoda has always said: trying is not doing.
Advertisers, conscious of their brands’ perception in an era of heightened awareness about hate speech in the US, have had enough. The longsimmering issue, including systemic racism and police brutality that has erupted after the murder of George Floyd last month, has finally pushed advertisers to act. Unilever’s shock announcement was followed by similar moves by Coca-cola, Pepsico and Levi’s, while Starbucks joined the boycott on Sunday. About 90 major firms are now involved.
Facebook has been sucking up to conservatives for years, especially Republican lawmakers, fearing a right-wing backlash. However, it seems not only to have forgotten its original cause to connect people, but also that its other major constituency — its advertisers — might find their moral backbone again.
As always, change has been spurred by an outside factor, not Facebook’s own confused internal logic and tangled ethics: the unstoppable social tsunami of rage, outrage and sheer pain about #Blacklivesmatter.
After decades of horror killings of innocent black men by armed police, the US has erupted, and some meaningful changes finally appear to be in the offing. And advertisers have at last voiced their disapproval of Facebook’s inability to rein in the hate speech, misogyny and anti-semitism. They’re voting with their dollars, and it could cost Facebook billions in ad revenue.
More importantly, the stock market — uncaring as it usually is about ethical issues — does respond to financial stimuli, and billions of dollars in lost advertising certainly trigger events like Friday’s sell-off.
Facebook may take comfort in the fact that it has been in a similar position before and has recovered. But this is different – and advertiser concerns are not going away. It’s also an election year and after the gobsmacking manipulation in the 2016 presidential election, social networks are under the microscope.
“We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests,” according to a Facebook memo seen by Bloomberg. Now is the time, then, for Facebook to find its own moral compass and do the right thing.
But I doubt it will.
Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of
Facebook is finally confronted by its inability to control disinformation, hate speech and the rise of white supremacy posts on its platform
Stuff magazine (stuff.co.za)