Facebook just lost one of the biggest advertisers in the world for the rest of 2020

Following Unilever's announcement, Coca-Cola said it would suspend its social media advertising globally.

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By Claire Atkinson

The campaign to convince marketers to ditch Facebook has added one of the world's largest advertising spenders.

The global consumer packaged goods company Unilever announced Friday that it will halt its advertising on Facebook and Instagram, joining a growing movement to stop spending ad dollars on the social media platforms.

The New Jersey-based conglomerate also said it would pull its advertising from Twitter because of a polarized climate on social media, which is being exacerbated by the November election.

Dove is one of Unilever's best known brands. Unilever

In a post on its website, Unilever referred to its "Responsibility Framework that calls for more responsible platforms, content and infrastructure."

"Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society," the company stated. "We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary."

Unilever joins a growing list of advertisers, including the wireless service company Verizon, in pausing its ad spending.

On Friday evening, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola announced it would "pause" its social media advertising globally for the month of July.

"We will take this time to reassess our advertising standards and policies to determine whether revisions are needed internally, and what more we should expect of our social media partners to rid the platforms of hate, violence and inappropriate content," the company said in a statement.

The moves come as social justice organizations and advertising watchdogs have teamed up to pressure companies with details about how their ads are supporting hate speech.

Later on Friday, Honda's American operations announced that it would also halt its Facebook spending.

“For the month of July, American Honda will withhold its advertising on Facebook and Instagram, choosing to stand with people united against hate and racism," said Alyssa Dominguez, a company spokeswoman. "This is in alignment with our company’s values, which are grounded in human respect.”

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the Unilever news.

Unilever is one of the biggest advertisers in the world, spending about $8.2 billion in 2019 on "brand and marketing investment," according to the company's annual report. It owns a variety of consumer brands including Lipton tea, Dove beauty products and the Axe line of men's grooming products.

Unilever spent $42.3 million on Facebook in 2019, according to Pathmatics, an ad data firm, and spent $11.8 million through June 25.

Unilever is one of a number of advertisers who are pushing for new rules for social media companies as part of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media.

Facebook has been the subject of criticism for its decision not to take action on statements from President Donald Trump that warned that looters during protests would be shot. While the platform has in recent years taken numerous steps to crack down on hate speech, civil rights groups remain critical of the social platform's role in the rise of extremism along with the latitude it gives to the president.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company invests billions of dollars a year to keep its platform safe.

"We’ve opened ourselves up to a civil rights audit, and we have banned 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook and Instagram," Stone said in an email.

Stone also stressed a recent European Union report that said Facebook identified 90 percent of hate speech before it was reported and acts faster that Twitter or YouTube.

The Facebook protest was mobilized by the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups such as Color of Change and Sleeping Giants, a group that targets advertisers that support certain right-wing content, among others.

Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change, applauded Unilever's move.

“As one of the largest spenders on Facebook’s platforms, Unilever’s decision to halt advertising and commit to our #StopHateforProfit pledge brings us a huge step forward in holding Facebook accountable for enabling hateful, denigrating and discriminatory content against Black people," Robinson said in an email. "Facebook leaders should understand the gravity of this movement for civil rights and take urgent steps to remedy its harms, including implementing a permanent civil rights infrastructure. Facebook cannot afford to look away anymore.”

Facebook has endured some pressure in recent years from advertisers over how it moderates its platform, but those efforts have often failed to make much of a difference. Now, Unilever could end up influencing other companies to ditch Facebook, opening the door to a real impact on Facebook's business, according to Nicole Perrin, a principal analyst for the digital marketing analysis company eMarketer.

“Unilever's statement cites 'divisiveness' as well as hate speech," Perrin said. "That suggests a deeper problem with user-generated content platforms, as divisiveness is to be expected on any such platform that allows political expression.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke to advertisers this week to calm the storm of protest about how the company is handling both political ads and also the proliferation of hate-speech and untrue information across the board.

Twitter has mostly avoided the controversy, in part because it put a warning label on Trump's incendiary tweets.

Sarah Personette, vice president of global client solutions for Twitter, said in a statement: “We have developed policies and platform capabilities designed to protect and serve the public conversation, and as always, are committed to amplifying voices from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups.”

Facebook stock was down 7 percent on Friday afternoon, though it had declined throughout the day along with a broader U.S. stock market decline.

Unilever also said in a separate statement on its website that it would remove the words “fair & lovely” from a brand of skin whitening products sold in India as part of an evolution about definitions of beauty.

Dylan Byers and Jo Ling Kent contributed.