Opinion | Be honest, Facebook isn’t going to change unless advertisers tell you to
By the time advertisers start reducing their spending on Facebook, Congress, Ms. Haugen and the press are just bumps on the way. Why should Pfizer or Nike go away? Facebook is where their buyers are, and this is where Pfizer can ensure drug marketing is seen by 40-year-old rheumatoid arthritis patients.
According to reports, Facebook and Mr Zuckerberg rarely follow the advice of their own researchers, who have detailed solutions to the increasing incidents of hate speech and political unrest on the site. But Facebook will likely listen to those who control the wallets. On a day when at least a dozen critical reports were posted on Facebook and Ms. Haugen appeared before the UK Parliament to demand stricter technical regulation, Mr. Zuckerberg began his prepared pronouncements outlining the impact of Apple’s iPhone privacy changes complained to Facebook’s advertising business.
There is a precedent for marketers to express outrage. Over the past year, more than 1,000 advertisers cut their Facebook spending briefly to protest its failure to curb hate speech and misinformation. The boycott resulted in some positive changes, including hiring civil rights experts and tightening controls against extremism in Facebook groups.
At the time, advertisers had strong words for Facebook, called the lack of care in its moderation approach “extreme” and said the platform was facing a “time of reckoning”. This time they have been silent so far. But the problem with a temporary cut in ad spend is that it usually comes back up later – and so it is with Facebook.
An ad boycott of YouTube by Walmart, AT&T, Pepsi, and other major advertisers in 2017 after it became known that Google was placing ads alongside Nazi and other extremist content led YouTube to tighten its controls over who makes money from its content could. Two years later, another advertising boycott for the video platform produced similar results.
Of course, pulling out of ads from, say, Jeanine Pirros or Tucker Carlson’s cable news talk shows isn’t the same thing as disconnecting from around 3.6 billion people who use Facebook and its other apps. But if targeting a website promoting human trafficking, ethnic cleansing, and malicious cartels isn’t enough to give advertisers a break, it’s hard to imagine what it would be.
“As long as the incentives do not change, Facebook will not change,” as Haugen put it before the congress.
Facebook has proven that it will not address its systemic problems until forced to do so. Now, it seems, only advertisers can make the status quo unprofitable and unsustainable.