Boycotts can be extremely effective – as Facebook is discovering.
In the late 18th century, the abolitionist movement encouraged the British people to stay away from goods produced by slaves. It worked. About 300,000 have stopped buying sugar – increasing pressure to abolish slavery.
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign is the latest move to use the boycott as a political tool. It claims that Facebook does not do enough to remove racist and hateful content from its platform.
It convinced a number of large companies to receive advertising from Facebook and other social media companies.
Among the most recent, Ford, Adidas and HP. They join previous participants, including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Starbucks.
The news website Axios also reported that Microsoft suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram in May due to concerns about unspecified “inappropriate content” – a development the BBC can confirm.
Meanwhile, other online platforms, including Reddit and Twitch, have increased the pressure by taking their own anti-hate measures.
Loss of confidence
Can this boycott harm Facebook? The short answer is yes – the vast majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from ads.
David Cumming of Aviva Investors told the BBC Today program that the loss of confidence and the absence of a moral code can “destroy business”.
On Friday, Facebook’s stock price fell 8% – making chief executive Mark Zuckerberg theoretically at least £ 6 billion.
But whether that can be any bigger – an existential threat to Facebook’s long-term future – is much less clear.
First of all, this is not the first boycott of a social media company.
In 2017, major brands after major announced that they would stop advertising on YouTube – after the ads were placed alongside racist and homophobic videos.
That particular boycott is now largely forgotten. YouTube has adjusted its ad policies and, three years at the parent company of YouTube, Google is doing very well.
And there are more reasons to believe that this boycott is not as damaging to Facebook as you might think.
Many low spenders
First, many companies have committed to just a month-long boycott in July.
Second, and perhaps more significantly, much of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from thousands upon thousands of small and medium-sized businesses.
CNN reports that the top 100 spenders were responsible for $ 4.2 billion in advertising on Facebook last year – or about 6% of the platform’s advertising revenue.
So far, the vast majority of midsize companies have not signed up.
Mat Morrison, head of strategy for the Digital Whiskey advertising agency, told me that there are a large number of smaller companies that “cannot afford not to advertise”.
He says that for smaller companies – which are priced with TV advertising – cheaper and more concentrated ads on platforms like Facebook are essential.
“The only way for our company to function is to have access to these highly targeted audiences, which are not mass media audiences, so we will continue to advertise,” says Morrison.
In a way, Facebook seems like a good choice of company to lobby. Facebook’s structure gives Mark Zuckerberg an enormous amount of power to affect changes. If he wants something, he will get it.
You just need to change a man’s mind.
But the opposite is also true. Shareholders are unable to pressure Zuckerberg in the same way as other companies. If he doesn’t want to act, he won’t.
So far, however, he has shown signs that he is prepared to move. On Friday, Facebook announced it would start targeting hateful content – and expect more ads this week.
These changes will not be enough to make Stop Hate for Profit disappear.
And in other places, others are acting on their own.
On Monday, Reddit banned The_Donald forum as part of a broader crackdown on “subreddits” whose members were involved in harassment and threatening behavior. The community was not officially linked to the president, but it had helped spread memes that supported it, before Reddit took previous steps to limit the reach of posts.
In addition, Twitch has temporarily banned an account managed by the Trump campaign.
Amazon’s streaming video site said two videos of Trump’s rallies that were shown on its platform violated its rules of odious conduct.
One dated 2015, before being elected, in which he said that Mexico was sending rapists to the United States. The other was earlier this month, in which the president had described a fictional “hombre duro” invading an American woman’s home.
“We make no exceptions for political or interesting content,” Twitch said in a statement.
This year will be a difficult year for all social media companies.
Facebook is by no means the exception. But companies will always be guided by their balance sheets.
If the boycott goes on until autumn – and if more and more companies sign up – this could be a decisive year for the social network.