Facebook shrugs off advertiser panic attack

Social media giant Facebook is refusing to be blackmailed into having its censorship policies dictated to it, for now.

Today is the day the great one-month Facebook advertiser boycott starts and, according to a Reuters report, Facebook execs met advertisers yesterday to try to talk them out of it. Judging by the unimpressed noises coming from some of those who attended the meetings, however, those execs don’t seem to have tried too hard.

The Facebook party line from the start of this melodrama has been that it’s not going to let third party extortion dictate its policies. Having said that, it has been voluntarily tweaking its algorithms recently, but it seems nothing short of wholesale censorship of President Trump will be enough to placate the apparently politically-driven Stop Hate For Profit campaign.

A recent attempt at appealing to reason came in the form of a post from Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications, and former UK Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, entitled Facebook Does Not Benefit from Hate. As ever ‘hate’ is not defined and it seems reasonable to assume that the word itself is generally allowed to be used with impunity.

Clegg decided to have another go at the free speech argument, writing: “When content falls short of being classified as hate speech — or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression — we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech. Exposing it to sunlight is better than hiding it in the shadows.”

That will do nothing to placate those campaigning for censorship of everything they don’t like because, ironically, they hate free speech. Clegg insists that “A recent European Commission report found that Facebook assessed 95.7% of hate speech reports in less than 24 hours, faster than YouTube and Twitter,” but again that is irrelevant to those who want to prevent Trump from campaigning and advertising on the platform.

Those advertisers that Facebook is temporarily losing are increasingly rejecting other social media too, but that hasn’t stopped the Stop Hate For Profit campaign from claiming every single one of them as an explicit ally. Meanwhile a recent study revealing a significant minority of advertisers are considering shunning all social media has been dishonestly reported as being specific to the anti-Facebook campaign.

The Reuters report suggests that the top 100 brands only account for around 6% of Facebook’s ad spend, so the company can easily afford to call this bluff and its share price has already fully recovered from its dip at the start of this week. But if it loses its nerve and caves in, it will set the precedent that it can be dictated to by a small number of commercial partners. This is a mistake many regular media have made to their cost and, as the FT puts it, when corporations claim to be acting on principle, it’s tempting to be cynical.