Facebook is facing its biggest backlash yet, as advertiser boycott gains momentum

“There’s never been pressure on Facebook like there is right now," one tech expert said.
Stop Hate is part of a growing chorus to call out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to censor President Donald Trump when he warned protesters in Minneapolis, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Stop Hate is part of a growing chorus to call out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to censor President Donald Trump when he warned protesters in Minneapolis, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images

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By Claire Atkinson

As mass social justice protests push for change across America, retailer Eileen Fisher and ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's are the latest in a string of brands to pull their advertising from Facebook, joining the likes of Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, and The North Face in an activist campaign forcing the social network to counteract hate speech on its platform.

In a statement shared with NBC News, a spokesman for the Unilever-owned ice cream brand said: "Ben & Jerry’s stands with our friends at the  NAACP  and  Color of Change, the  ADL, and all those calling for Facebook to  take stronger action to  stop  its platforms  from being  used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy. "

"We call on Facebook, Inc. to take the clear and unequivocal actions called for by the campaign to stop its platform from being used to spread and amplify racism and hate," the statement continued.

Adventure clothing retailer Arc'teryx and Magnolia Pictures, an independent film distributor behind the Oscar-nominated movie “I Am Not Your Negro,” also pledged to halt their advertising on Facebook and Instagram in support of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

Facebook took in $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019 from major advertisers and from small businesses. The company's ad revenues are poised to grow just 4.9 percent in 2020, versus 26.1 percent in 2019, according to an eMarketer forecast released on Monday.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which started last week, is spearheaded by a coalition of organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Common Sense and other civil rights groups who said Facebook is not doing enough to keep hate speech off its platforms.

Stop Hate believes Facebook allowed comments inciting violence against social justice protesters in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The group is just part of a growing chorus to call out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to censor President Donald Trump when he warned protesters in Minneapolis, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The president’s comment was flagged by Twitter but left standing by Facebook.

The Stop Hate campaign has a list of demands for Facebook that include creating a separate moderation channel for people who say they’ve been a target because of their race or religion, and releasing data on the volume of hate speech on the platform and what action was taken. Most important, the coalition wants Facebook to stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content.

The activists have been targeting major advertisers, asking them to support the movement.

Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest ad spenders and home to brands such as Pampers and Tide, said Wednesday it has initiated a review of the places it advertises to ensure that, “the content on which we advertise accurately and respectfully portrays Black people — and all people for that matter.”

The comments were made by Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer of P&G, as part of speech at an advertising event.

A spokeswoman for P&G told NBC News it would not comment on whether its ad campaigns would disappear from Facebook or Instagram in July, but noted it would review many of P&G’s media partners. The company said it is executing a new initiative to invest in Black-owned businesses and make sure production crew on its ads also included enough Black talent, among other things.

The North Face — owned by VF Corp., which also owns Vans and Timberland — carried a message from the NAACP in a tweet about its decision on Friday: “It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy.”

Hayden Brown, CEO of the online freelancing platform Upwork, also joined the protest. "We cannot stand by and be complicit to or complacent about the spread of hate, racism and misinformation, and that is why we are supporting the Stop Hate for Profit advocacy campaign, which calls for pausing advertising on all Facebook platforms in the month of July. Upwork will pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram as a part of this campaign," Brown said in a statement.

On Friday, REI announced on Twitter that it would join Stop Hate, writing: "For 82 years, we have put people over profits. We're pulling all Facebook/Instagram advertising for the month of July."

Modern Farmer magazine also said it is joining the campaign, tweeting on Monday, "While our marketing has relied primarily on Facebook and Instagram in the past, we will not buy any future advertising until policies are put in place to end racist, hateful content and misinformation on these platforms."

Facebook has seen pressure from ad quarters before, most notably after the platform was used to live stream a mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019. New Zealand-based advertisers called on companies around the world to boycott Facebook.

The Stop Hate campaign is likely to gather steam because chief executives are involved — and they’re seeing pressure to walk the walk after making statements in support of Black civil rights, said one ad executive who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak.

“This is something at the board level. Unlike in past Facebook kerfuffles, it isn’t just the chief marketing officers they’re getting pressure from," the executive told NBC News.

Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice president for global marketing, told NBC News in a statement :“We deeply respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”

David Kirkpatrick, founder of the Techonomy conference, said, “There’s never been pressure on Facebook like there is right now."

"And we’ve never seen an organized movement of advertisers driven by extremely respected external organizations like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League," he said. "That is new and that must be very worrisome to Facebook, because if you were to gauge their behavior overall, the thing they most care about is their image and their revenues.

"This is a genuine threat to at least that perception they have unlimited upward revenues."