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Facebook will survive growing ad boycott, but at a public image cost: experts

Coke, Unilever join Facebook ad boycott over hate-speech concerns
WATCH: Coke, Unilever join Facebook ad boycott over hate-speech concerns

While brands continue to join the #StopHateForProfit campaign and pause advertising on Facebook, experts say the movement may not dramatically impact the social media giant’s bottom line — but it could damage its overall image.

Earlier this month, a coalition of civil rights and advocacy groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) created the campaign, urging a pause in advertising on Facebook and its other social media platforms during July.

According to the campaign’s website, the movement is a response to Facebook’s “long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform.”

Read more: As Facebook ad boycott intensifies, political parties continue to spend big

Ken Wong, distinguished professor of marketing at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, said Facebook will likely take a short-term hit to its bottom line, because advertisement revenues they were counting on “aren’t going to materialize.”

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“And since this has just come up, there’s no way they could have anticipated that happening,” he explained.

But just how much of an impact this will have, he explained, is yet to be seen.

By Tuesday evening, more than 100 brands were listed as participants on the campaign’s website including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Levi’s, Lululemon, Ford, Honda and Adidas.

But, that remains a small share of the approximately 8 million companies that advertise on the platform.

Facebook to add labels to newsworthy content that violate policy
Facebook to add labels to newsworthy content that violate policy

Regardless, Wong said the campaign is a “clear demonstration” from some of Facebook’s large advertisers that they are “not going to be held hostage.”

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“So if Facebook was planning some kind of total domination of media space, clearly this is an indication that the big advertisers feel they have a lot of options besides Facebook.”

Read more: More than 80 brands join movement to pause Facebook advertising — here’s why

Alan Middleton, an adjunct professor of marketing at York University, said he doesn’t think the #StopHateForProfit campaign will harm Facebook “dramatically overnight,” but said it’s the latest in a pattern of events that have been “gradually picking away at both the consumer and the potential advertiser.”

It’s not the first issue they’ve had, and they’ve not handled any of these things well whether it’s privacy or any other issues they’ve been having,” he explained.

“And what happens over time is there’s a whole bunch of little hits happen that lead to an inflection point, and people start saying, ‘maybe this isn’t a place I need to have my brand in association with.’

Middleton said the more large brands that join the campaign, the more tarnished Facebook’s image becomes.

What has Facebook said?

Last week, Facebook Inc. announced it would start labelling newsworthy content that violates the social media company’s policies, and label all posts and ads about voting with links to authoritative information, including those from politicians.

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The company said it would also ban false claims intended to discourage voting, such as stories about federal agents checking legal status at polling places.

The company also said it is increasing its enforcement capacity to remove false claims about local polling conditions in the 72 hours before the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

Facebook closes loophole in political ads ahead of U.S. election
Facebook closes loophole in political ads ahead of U.S. election

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also announced the social network would ban ads that claim people from groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status are a threat to physical safety or health.

However, the #StopHateForProfit campaign said these policies don’t go far enough and called on Facebook to take 10 steps to improve accountability, improve their policies and remove hate from their platforms.

Read more: Canadian companies Lululemon, MEC, Arc’teryx join Facebook ad boycott

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Wong said Facebook “should be criticized” for not being more proactive.

He pointed to Twitter’s policy to label and provide warnings on content that is deceptive or misleading, saying Facebook should have implemented something similar, earlier.

It doesn’t have to be a ban, simply a warning that this contains certain kinds of material, much like Twitter did,” Wong said.

“They don’t ban it, but they could put a banner on it, and that would have certainly eased a lot of pressure from Facebook.

Middleton echoed Wong’s remarks, saying Facebook has been “notoriously bad” when it comes to proactive decision making and crisis management.

Moving forward, he said, Facebook should develop a “series of practices” to address these types of issues.

“What do they actually believe?” he asked. “And what actions will they take to offset any criticism on any of these issues, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or whether it’s Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the States, or whether it’s privacy issues?”

He said Facebook needs to understand this issue is “not going to go away,” and that it will be “very harmful” if the company fails to take action.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to review content policies after backlash
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to review content policies after backlash

“They need to plan and do something, not just talk about it,” Middleton said.

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What’s more, Wong said if Facebook does choose to take action to remove false and hateful content from its platforms, it would improve its credibility and image as a credible source for information.

And therefore, (a source) that consumers will go to,” he said. “And therefore, one that advertisers will want to be on.”