Big Canadian banks join Facebook ad boycott

Eight major banks said on Thursday they would heed a call by other major global advertisers to boycott Facebook, demanding the social network do more to tackle racist and other hate speech

by AFP
Big Canadian banks join Facebook ad boycott
A Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Eight major Canadian banks said on July 2, 2020 they would heed a call by other major global advertisers to boycott Facebook, demanding the social network do more to tackle racist and other hate speech. Photo: Olivier Douliery / AFP.

Eight major Canadian banks said on Thursday they would heed a call by other major global advertisers to boycott Facebook, demanding the social network do more to tackle racist and other hate speech.

Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, TD, BMO, National Bank of Canada, Desjardins and Laurentian Bank confirmed to AFP that they support the #StopHateForProfit movement launched by social justice activists.

That means they will pull their ads from Facebook and its sister photo-sharing platform Instagram.

"We have temporarily paused paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram," a TD spokeswoman said.

"TD is committed to the fight against racism and hate speech and to the work needed to help create a safer and more inclusive society."

An RBC spokesman said the bank wanted to work towards "eliminating systemic racism and unconscious bias, and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion."

"One way we can do that is by standing against misinformation and hate speech, which only make systemic racism more pervasive," he added.

Over 400 companies

More than 400 companies including Adidas, Coca-Cola, Puma and Starbucks have suspended ad buys on Facebook this month, which has more than 1.7 billion daily users.

The #StopHateForProfit campaign was launched by pressure groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States.

The movement gained momentum in the wake of the May death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed African American.

Last week, Facebook said it would ban a "wider category of hateful content" in response to the growing protests.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the changes were based on "feedback from the civil rights community and reflect months of work with our civil rights auditors."

This week, the world's leading social network disrupted a "violent US-based anti-government network" loosely affiliated with the far-right "Boogaloo" movement.

In recent days Facebook also banned Boogaloo, while promising to highlight sourced information and reinforce its moderation.

"Until now social media have managed to surf the wave of debate" about their efforts to moderate the most dangerous content on their platforms, said Laurent Benzoni, an economist and professor at Panthéon-Assas University. 

"But this is hitting them in the wallet," said Benzoni, who is also a founder of the Tera consultancy.

He is uncertain how social media platforms will find a solution while they maintain they are not media and thus are not responsible for moderating content, and still reassure advertisers.

But Daniel Salmon, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said he doesn't expects a "tangible financial impact at this state".

8 million SMEs place ads

That is because Facebook has a huge number of small- and medium-sized businesses who place ads on its platform – around eight million in all.

According to calculations by the Pathmatics firm that tracks digital marketing and advertising and was cited by CNN, the top-spending 100 brands on Facebook accounted for only 6% of its $70 billion revenue.

"It is really difficult for smaller companies to quit Facebook," said eMarketer junior analyst Nina Goetzen in a recent podcast. 

The coronavirus pandemic has made that even harder as many have been forced to go completely digital with their advertising, she added.

Facebook has indeed sought to capitalise on the crisis, unveiling in May its Facebook Shops, a shop template to allow businesses to set up on Facebook and Instagram. 

With such online retail presence on the platforms, firms have an even stronger incentive to advertise there, and leaving becomes more difficult.

Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at eMarketer, believes that this mobilisation is different than the scandal that followed revelations that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to scrape personal information from its users.

She said many of the advertisers which have joined the boycott "are ones that have a history of taking stances on social justice issues." But she believes the tipping point will likely be whether huge firms such as Proctor & Gamble and Amazon join the movement.

Collecting personal data

Will such giants really swear off the possibility of directly tailoring advertising to clients that Facebook and other social media platforms offer thanks the copious amounts of personal data they collect on their users?

Social media "built their business models on targeted advertising" using personal information gleaned from users, noted Professor Olivier Bomsel at the university Mines Paris Tech. Social media platforms "have an incentive to maximise their audience by creating sensationalist stories, exacerbating differences in opinion, conflicts of values," he added.

Nick Clegg, Facebook's top lobbyist, denied in a recent interview on Bloomberg TV that the platform pursues such a strategy.

"We do not profit from hate, we have no incentive to have hate on our platform, we don't like it," he said, adding that users and advertisers don't like it either. Our job is to minimise it as much as we can minimise it, but I don't want to pretend we can eliminate it all together."

'Control them, break them up'

Even if the campaign against Facebook does achieve results, over the long term the issue of control over social media platforms is a political one.

"Because advertisers bankrolled these platforms, we have a moral duty to pioneer alternative solutions," said Joy Howard, chief marketing officer at Dashlane, a password and personal information manager.

"While we can experiment with alternatives as a business, only our democratically elected institutions can effect lasting change. 

"The only true lasting change, the one that both society and capitalism need, is to break them up," she said.