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What's next for social ad spend as one third of brands plot hate-speech boycott?

Volkswagen and Mars are the latest corporations to halt ad spend with Facebook over its handling of damaging content / Unsplash

As brands continue to add their name to the growing list of companies boycotting Facebook, fresh research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has painted a sobering picture of how marketers view the social network and its rivals.

Volkswagen and Mars are the latest corporations to halt ad spend with Facebook over its handling of damaging content and misinformation. The car marque and food giant join Levi's, Coca-Cola, Unilever and more in signing up to the 'Stop Profit for Hate campaign' which is backed by civil rights groups including the NAACP, Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League.

The coalition has been calling on major corporations to put a pause on advertising on Facebook for the month of July, citing its "repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms".

Some brands have gone further, pulling the plug on all investment for the foreseeable future across all social networks.

The WFA's research has revealed a diminishing faith in not only Facebook, but also its bedfellows, to address the issue at hand.

What did the WFA's research find?

  • The WFA's members control nearly $900bn in global ad spend. Following on from the news of the Facebook boycott, the trade body asked members about their policies on social media ad spend. The WFA’s research asked advertiser views on all social media platforms.

  • 76 responded, representing 58 companies and $92bn in marketing dollars.

  • Almost one-third of these marketers (31%) said they will, or are likely to, suspend advertising on social media over platforms' failure to police hate speech. A further 40% said they were also considering doing so.

  • 17% said they were unlikely to withhold spend. 12% said they had no plans to withhold spend.

  • Brands were also asked which other actions they'd taken or had considered. 53% said they'd already had direct conversations with social platforms about hate speech. 48% said their main approach was to work through industry bodies to deal with the issue. 32% said they weren't taking action for now and 13% said they were taking other actions.

What does the data show?

  • If anything, the survey shows how divided the industry is on how to handle the issue. Some brands are set on pulling spend, where others remain undecided.

  • The WFA also released some anonymised qualitative responses as part of the research. Again, these are a mixed bag: one marketer laments that it's "simply depressing" how much the platforms are still falling short and says they would "appreciate support with identifying and viable alternatives for investments".

  • Another pointed out that neither the platforms nor the advertisers propping them up are perfect: "Advertisers may pull out of these platforms," the brand marketer continues, "but consumers will not.

What's next?

  • Hate speech and how brands inadvertently fund it is an issue that has been on the WFA's radar for some time. Working with social networks to find a solution to the problem is already being prioritised by the trade body's Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM).

  • For its part, Facebook has promised “new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression, and fight hate speech”.

  • Actions include labelling posts that are potentially harmful and even in violation of the platform's policies but are not censored by the platform because they are deemed newsworthy.

  • Facebook will also add a link to its voting information centre to posts that reference voting, including those made by politicians such as President Trump.

  • Speaking to the Financial Times earlier this week, chief executive of the WFA Stephen Loerke noted how this moment feels like a turning point amid the pressure of the 'Stop Hate for Profit' campaign.

  • “What’s striking is the number of brands who are saying they are reassessing their longer-term media allocation strategies and demanding structural changes in the way platforms address racial intolerance, hate speech and harmful content,” he explained.

  • The magnitude of the brand exodus won’t really be clear until Facebook releases its Q3 results in October.

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