TECH

Could a boycott kill Facebook?

Published: 30 Jun 2020 Updated: 30 Jun 2020   

Online Desk

Boycotts can be extremely effective - as Facebook is finding out.


In the late 18th century, the abolitionist movement encouraged British people to stay away from goods produced by slaves. It worked. Around 300,000 stopped buying sugar - increasing the pressure to abolish slavery.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign is the latest movement to use boycott as a political tool. It claims that Facebook doesn't do enough to remove racist and hateful content from its platform.

It's convinced a series of major companies to pull advertising from Facebook and some other social media companies.

Among the latest to do so are Ford, Adidas and HP. They join earlier participants including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Starbucks.

News site Axios has also reported that Microsoft suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram in May because of concerns about unspecified "inappropriate content" - a development the BBC can confirm.

Meanwhile, other online platforms, including Reddit and Twitch, have piled on more pressure by taking anti-hate steps of their own.

Loss of trust

Can that boycott hurt Facebook? The short answer is yes - the vast majority of Facebook's revenue comes from ads.

David Cumming from Aviva Investors told the BBC's Today programme that the loss of trust, and a perceived absence of a moral code, could "destroy the business".

On Friday, Facebook's share price dropped by 8% - making chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, theoretically at least, £6bn poorer.

But whether this could be bigger - an existential threat to Facebook's long-term future - is far less clear.

First of all, this isn't the first boycott of a social media company.

In 2017, major brand after major brand announced they would stop advertising on YouTube - after ads were placed next to racist and homophobic videos.

That particular boycott is now almost totally forgotten. YouTube tweaked its ad policies, and three years on YouTube's parent company Google is doing just fine.

And there are more reasons to believe this boycott isn't as damaging to Facebook as you might think.

Lots of low spenders

Firstly, many companies have only committed to a one-month boycott in July.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, much of Facebook's advertising revenue comes from thousands and thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses.

CNN reports that the highest-spending 100 brands accounted for $4.2bn in Facebook advertising last year- or about 6% of the platform's ad revenue.

So far, the vast majority of medium-sized companies have not signed up.

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