The Stop Hate For Profit campaign has made some noise lately in its efforts at deterring major advertisers from spending with Facebook (SH4P). The central idea of the campaign is that Facebook, by remaining “neutral” on speech on their platform, and in particular their ad market, has enabled voter suppression, racial agitation, hate speech, and societal harm. They have their own ideas about how to resolve these issues, but the accusations are, in my opinion, essentially correct. Zuckerberg’s Libertarian utopia where everybody “figures it out for themselves” hasn’t come true and isn’t growing nearer (NYT, WSJ). Taking responsibility for the space you occupy in reality need not be paternalism, it can simply be a set of moral choices. Facebook has broadly failed in its social contract, and by using the social graph as a means to extract ad revenue, they have poisoned that same society they grew around (Reuters).
Coca-Cola has paused advertising on all social networks globally (CNBC, The Verge), Verizon is pulling advertising from Facebook (CNN Business, Reuters), Hershey is suspending all advertising on Facebook (Business Insider), Ford has paused all social media advertising (NPR), Starbucks has stopped all social media advertising (USA Today), Unilever has paused all advertising on Facebook and Twitter through the end of this year (CNBC), Ben & Jerry’s is boycotting all its Facebook and Twitter advertising (CNBC), and The North Face is joining the Facebook boycott (CNN) too. It remains open to debate whether these corporations have all suddenly grown a conscience, or whether there’s simply a global downturn in consumer spending and attitudes due to a viral pandemic.
A boycott on Facebook ads is a potential threat to the company’s bottom line, as it accounts for 98% of their $70Bn annual revenue figure (NPR). However, it doesn’t appear the social giant is going to lose much money in the near future (CNN), with its largest ad partners staying on board. In response to the political aspects of the boycotts, the network has said that it will allow users to disable political ads (BBC). What’s interesting is that the attacks on these large corporations are coming from both the right and left, with the left demanding more censorship and the right feeling like their voices are being muted. How could it be that both sides of the aisle are angry at Facebook, and over the same issues?
At a deeper level, our society has grown distrustful of the power of Facebook, and with large tech companies in general. This comes with a rising level of anti-monopolist and anti-corporate sentiment that is triggering Congressional hearings with the large tech giants. Here, Congress has been drilling into the anti-competitive practices of Facebook, who acquired their growing competitor Instagram (TechCrunch); Amazon, who lifts data from their partners to decide which products to make next (TechCrunch, Axios); Apple, who has been coming under fire for their 30% cut and other pricing practices in the App Store; and Google, who… well, you know what Google does.
The story around monopoly is interesting in its own right, but for that, readers should turn to Matt Stoller’s work in his excellent Substack publication, BIG. I’m in my own personal transition away from social media back to long-form writing, and as I dig into the news, I’ll be focusing on this story from the angle of the social data, machine learning, facial recognition, and other technologies that overlap with the world of global ad markets and big data (tm). It will be an important fight over who controls American data, wealth, and power - as well as speech. This fight is about more than money, it’s about who holds the keys to our society.
Bits of News:
🥗 Instacart user data, including order histories, is available for sale online (The Verge).
🏛 The Supreme Court will hear a “robocall” suit against Facebook related to unwanted text messages from the service (The Verge).
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