September 1, 2020

The Outcome of the Facebook Ads Boycott

If you followed marketing or technology news at all this summer, you are likely very familiar with the large-scale boycott of Facebook and Instagram ads. This movement took place in July 2020, with many companies continuing on beyond that month. But as we move out of the core period of the boycott, you might wonder what the lasting impact was. Did the Facebook ads boycott succeed? Did it create change? The answer can actually differ, depending on what you were looking for the boycott to ultimately accomplish.

What Was the Facebook Ads Boycott?

The boycott, which involved at least 1,000 publicly-identified companies, was part of a widespread campaign called #StopHateForProfit. It called on companies to pause ad spends on Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns) for all of July 2020. The movement was in response to the beliefs of many that tech platforms are not doing enough to stop the spread of hate in the forms of posts, groups, and conversations. Facebook was seen by the campaign as a main source of this issue. People believe the platform hasn’t done enough to block, remove, and otherwise discourage hateful posts. As the ads boycott grew, the list of publicly-known or admitted companies taking part surpassed 1,000 and became documented in widely-shared public lists.

Impact on Facebook’s Financials

The one area where the boycott likely had little lasting impact was on Facebook’s actual earnings and financials. To be clear, this was never the main intention of the movement. Facebook has long said that the bulk of their ads revenue comes not from the top spenders but from many thousands of smaller companies. That fact seems to reflect in Facebook’s most recent financial reports. While its top 100 advertisers spent 12% less in July than last year, Facebook reported that total ad spend was actually higher year-over-year on the platform. The company’s stock also took a short-term hit but recovered quickly. Taking down Facebook financially was never the goal of the ads boycott. But in terms of actual impact it would appear that the boycott did little to Facebook’s bottom line.

Impact on Facebook’s Reputation

Where the boycott did succeed, and will likely see impact for a long time to come, was in raising public awareness and support for the issue of hate speech. The PR generated forced a nationwide examination of Facebook and similar platforms. Facebook might not concerned about long-term revenue impact. However, the reputation impact required them to become part of the story. Twitter, Reddit, and others have taken actions recently to remove hateful posts or groups from their platforms. YouTube hastened the removal of harmful or hateful channels and videos. Facebook has been seen slower to adapt and respond, and many companies have continued the ads boycott into subsequent months. Facebook has announced more steps to label content, but critics say it’s not nearly enough. The platform could risk a permanent negative impact on its reputation by allowing hateful speech and content.

Long-Term Impact

In the end, the Facebook ads boycott brought about new dialogue and created awareness in the general public about how Facebook ads are used. In addition, the boycott shed light on how Facebook operated as a discussion and content platform. It’s something marketers tend to know and take for granted, but using the PR of a widespread boycott to get the everyday person involved in the cause likely had a lasting impact. That involvement can be far greater than if marketers and agencies had just quietly reduced spends behind the scenes. Long-term changes to Facebook remain to be seen. However, it’s clear that the boycott did its first job in getting people to demand answers and action where there previously had been none.

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