Facebook put on an upbeat presentation to advertisers on Tuesday, the same day the clothing chain Eddie Bauer, film distributor Magnolia Pictures and the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand announced that they would stop advertising on the platform through July.
Those companies joined Patagonia, the North Face, REI and others in a growing boycott that has targeted Facebook’s content moderation practices.
In a short video, part of a weeklong showcase for digital companies hoping to attract advertising dollars, Facebook displayed posts that companies like Delta Air Lines and Calvin Klein ran during the coronavirus pandemic. The prerecorded presentation did not specifically address the boycott.
While several large companies have pulled away from Facebook, smaller businesses that make up the bulk of its 8 million advertisers have been considering their options.
Jason Dille, who oversees media planning for 20 clients at the ad agency Chemistry, said many of them had considered putting a halt to buying ads on Facebook but that the pandemic had complicated their plans.
“Some of my clients are just starting to come back,” Dille said. “If they don’t create sales and get business to turn around, they’re going to go under.”
He added: “Facebook is a double-edged sword. You don’t want to support it, but you have to use it in order to reach a large audience.”
The backlash intensified late last month, as a flurry of misinformation appeared on Facebook amid worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. The company declined to take action against posts from President Donald Trump — the same ones that Twitter flagged as misleading or glorifying violence.
In recent days, Facebook removed ads from Trump’s reelection campaign that featured a red triangular symbol used by the Nazis during World War II. The company also announced that it would gradually allow users to opt out of seeing political ads. On Sunday, it acknowledged in a blog post that its enforcement of content rules “isn’t perfect.”
Facebook sidestepped sensitive issues during its presentation at the so-called NewFronts, an annual event for digital media companies to promote themselves as advertising venues. Before the Facebook section on Tuesday, Snap pledged to shield advertisers from harmful content, and Condé Nast said it had been forced to “hold a mirror up to ourselves” after an internal uproar over how the company has dealt with race. Immediately after Facebook’s presentation, the Ad Council, a nonprofit group, presented a video about the Black Lives Matter movement.
In explaining why it would stop advertising on Facebook, Magnolia Pictures said Tuesday that it was “seeking meaningful change at Facebook and the end to their amplification of hate speech.”
Ben & Jerry’s pushed Facebook on Tuesday “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.”
The freelancing platform Upwork and the password manager Dashlane are also participating in the boycott, which advocacy groups such as the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League have promoted with the hashtag #StopHateForProfit.
The effort, which began taking shape this month, gained traction Friday and through the weekend as several outdoor-gear retailers, including REI and Patagonia, joined in.
The North Face has stopped posting content and buying ads on Facebook through July, but will continue putting free posts on Instagram, which Facebook owns, the company’s global vice president of marketing, Steve Lesnard, said in an interview. The North Face spends more on Facebook than it does on any other platform besides Google, Lesnard said.
“The stakes are too high,” he said. “The platform needs to evolve.”
The efforts against Facebook have gotten support from ad agencies. In an email to more than 50 clients last week, the digital ad agency 360i said it supported the boycott, The Wall Street Journal reported. Some companies have quietly joined the effort, and several ad agencies have developed guidelines for major companies interested in participating, said three people with knowledge of recent discussions, who requested anonymity because the talks are confidential.
“It feels like we’ve come to an inflection point,” said Stephan Loerke, the chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers, a trade group. “There’s a growing awareness that this isn’t a brand safety issue anymore — it’s a societal safety issue.”
Facebook executives have tried to limit the damage. In an email sent to some of its largest advertising clients last week, obtained by The New York Times, the company said it had taken steps to mitigate the effects of potentially harmful speech on the site.
“There are competing pressures every day when managing a platform,” the memo said. “Our focus is to act on what is most important: removing hate speech and content that harms communities while using our platform for efforts like providing authoritative voting information and registering people to vote.”
Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for global marketing solutions, said in a statement that the company was in discussions with advertisers and civil rights groups “about how, together, we can be a force for good.”
“We deeply respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information,” she said in the statement.
Most companies that have turned away from Facebook are not shutting down their Facebook accounts. They expect to return to buying ads on the platform after July.
“It almost feels a little hypocritical to me,” said Barry Lowenthal, the chief executive of the Media Kitchen agency. “How do you justify going back?”
He suggested that companies make a gradual separation from Facebook as they experiment with alternatives like Amazon, Snap or TikTok.
“They’re not doing a good job, and advertisers want better protections,” Lowenthal said of Facebook.
Facebook generates nearly all its revenue from advertisements. The research firm eMarketer expects that the platform’s ad revenue will increase nearly 5% this year.
Around the same time of Facebook’s presentation Tuesday, representatives of some of the biggest companies that regularly advertise on the platform gathered online for a previously scheduled meeting to discuss its handling of misinformation and hate speech.