Are Brands Standing Up to Facebook?

Since its creation last week, the #StopHateForProfit campaign has gained a ton of steam. As of today, more than 250 companies have either paused or indefinitely halted their advertisements on Facebook. Early on, it was outerwear brands like The North Face and REI, but it’s extended to major companies like Coca-Cola, Adidas, Clorox, and Unilever (which is also pulling ads from Twitter).

Facebook is scrambling for answers, even though the most obvious one is directly in front of them. As Casey Newton wrote for The Verge, the social media giant is simply too big to police its own posts—when you’ve got 1.73 billion people posting on your site, some rules violations are going to be missed, no matter how blatant.

The #StopHateForProfit campaign is a good step, at least optically. But the real question consumers should be asking of major brands is intent. Market motivation is a hell of a drug. Large corporations don’t suddenly develop courage and decide to speak out against racism or hate speech on a whim—they react to what the market and consumers are telling them. Many consumers have been crying foul about Facebook’s rubbish hate speech policies for years. Between that, the social media giant’s rampant data farming, and finicky truth verification process, there are more than enough reasons for quitting Facebook, whether you’re an advertiser or individual user.

Market motivation is far from perfect. It provides a moral cover for brands that might be operating with ulterior motives. In this case, for example, decreased ad budgets due to the global pandemic. Slashing a heap of online ads sounds a lot better when you can frame it as a moral reckoning. Let’s not forget that the crux of the #StopHateForProfit campaign isn’t necessarily brands standing up to hate speech, but brands not wanting their ads side-by-side with hate speech. The distinction is just wide enough to remove any whiff of genuine belief or principle from the boycott. Unfortunately, that’s just business in America.

Sure, there has to be some level of agreement with the sentiment of a boycott like #StopHateForProfit. But balance sheets and profit margins will always dictate change in hyper-capitalistic societies, at least on a macro scale. Black Lives Matter protests have proved that change can be accelerated under certain circumstances. Still, nothing was stopping any of these brands from boycotting Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016—and even the ones that did, or boycotted it some other time, came back eventually.

For its part, Facebook is likely content to wait things out, making marginal content policy changes, biding time for post-pandemic ad budgets to fatten back up, and America’s racial and social tension to ease. If the boycotted party can predictably wait out the boycott, it probably wasn’t very principled to begin with.