Little Rock The old saying that “arrogance comes before the fall,” doesn’t set the clock on when it happens, just the inevitability. Facebook, the social media giant and communication hub for the world, seems finally on the verge of reading the time correctly, after ignoring the issues and the voices of concern and protest for years. Now an ad boycott, led by the NAACP and others from the human rights community, is slapping them awake. Four hundred companies have joined, including big hitters in auto and consumer brands. This is a serious assault on their tower.
Of course, Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues continue to duck and weave, shuck and jive, trying to escape accountability once again. The issues are plain. Facebook has been unwilling to curb hate speech, including the racial divisiveness pounded daily from Pennsylvania Avenue. This despite their documented problems in the 2016 election where they were manipulated by Russia, allowed Cambridge Analytics to scour millions of users from their database, more recently enabled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and Hindu extremism against Muslims in India. All the while, their response has essentially been, “Who me?”
Their problems have intensified to crisis point as they have increasingly become outliers hiding behind their ostrich-in-the-sand pretense that this all about free speech and political news. Twitter, surprisingly, has led the way in blocking Trump’s extremism on voting, the virus, and race. YouTube jettisoned the David Duke white supremacist channel. Reddit, Snap, and others have also stepped in to prevent Trump abuse. Trump of course responded with a meaningless executive order, as if he could usurp Congress and the FCC, but no one blinked, except perhaps Zuckerberg. Congress is asking all of these guys to come for hearings so we’ll see more shimmying and sliding from Facebook in coming days.
Big companies don’t like their ads running next to a bunch of name calling and hate mongering. Surprise! They don’t think that encourages consumers to buy. Oh, yeah, they also claim that they care about the issues, and some of the more progressive ones like REI, the outdoor cooperative, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, do care about the politics. This boycott is serious because 70% of Facebook’s revenue comes from small business advertising, and a tipping point of accountability could finally get their attention.
As always, Zuckerberg’s strategy is to defuse the crisis. He announced some more controls, yawn. He says he is going to meet with the boycott organizers, but he’s actually already talked to them, and they came away unsatisfied. Remember he met with the rightwing whiners who claimed there was a bias against them in recent years, and, frankly, that’s part of the problem he has now, along with his pussyfooting with Trump.
Facebook is slippery. I’m rooting for the boycott, but it may take a lot more ad withdrawals to win change, given how much arrogance remains.