UPDATED Friday at 10:15AM PT with Unilever news. Unilever, the owner of a wide range of brands from Dove soap to Lipton tea, has joined a growing advertiser boycott of Facebook.
The boycott over Facebook’s inability to rein in misinformation and objectionable speech has gained momentum this week and is blamed for sending Facebook stock down 7% in Friday trading.
Unilever is not changing its total planned media investment in the U.S. but said it will shift dollars allocated to social networks to other media.
The Wall Street Journal had the first report of the Unilever decision.
Verizon has joined a growing boycott of advertisers boycotting Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary after the company’s handling of objectionable posts has left many brands uneasy on the massive social platforms.
“We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners,” the company said in a statement. It noted it has long had “strict content policies” and has “zero tolerance when they are breached.”
The telecom giant joins a list of companies signing on to the “Stop the Hate for Profit” campaign this week, including Magnolia Pictures, Ben & Jerry’s and Eddie Bauer. Patagonia and REI are two other notable buyers now on the sidelines.
The Anti-Defamation League has applied pressure to major advertisers, including Geico and Verizon, noting what it called “egregious examples of online hate, misinformation and extremism” on the platform. “Whether or not these posts technically violate Facebook’s complicated guidelines around hate speech, as a result of the platform’s casual placement of ads, paid advertisements run a risk of being placed next to divisive (and sometimes blatantly hateful) content,” the ADL said in a blog post.
Misleading posts about Antifa’s supposed role in waves of protests in recent weeks exacerbated concerns about Facebook as an environment for ads. While the reports were quickly disproved, they were allowed to spread unchecked in late-May and into June. Residents of dozens of cities became alarmed by Facebook reports that “anti-fascist” demonstrators were infiltrating their areas and fomenting chaos.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter has made at least a cursory move to manage the information disseminated via its network, even attaching fact-checking warnings or other labels on several tweets by President Donald Trump. YouTube, which has also faced backlash from advertisers over its inability to prevent blue-chip advertisers from having their messages appear next to violent or objectionable footage, has also tightened up of late.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has generally taken a laissez-faire stance on content, though, insisting that Facebook is merely a platform and is not responsible for the content appearing on it. That position is blamed for helping to enable the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and widespread manipulation of the platform by forces aligned with Trump in 2016, the year he was elected.
Beyond politics, the concern of the ADL and other watchdogs is that general discourse is not policed and that extremist groups are able to organize on Facebook and Instagram. Zuckerberg and his management team have sought to address the issue in recent months, but participants in the boycott are still concerned about the state of those efforts.
Facebook, along with Google, dominates digital advertising. In 2019, total ad revenue at Facebook reached $20.7 billion, up 25% from 2018.
AdAge was the first to report Verizon’s withdrawal, noting that the company is the 10th largest advertiser on Facebook, spending $850,000 there through the first three weeks of June.
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