Aug 2, 2020 - Technology

Facebook hate-speech boycott had little effect on revenue

Illustration of the facebook like icon holding a protest sign

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The high-profile Facebook ad boycotts that began in June and ramped up in July, pressuring the social network to act more forcefully against hate speech, have so far not put much of a dent in Facebook's top or bottom lines.

Driving the news: Facebook beat Wall Street revenue expectations for the second quarter, and it said that the growth of its ad business during the first three weeks in July was roughly the same as it was last year during the same timespan.

The big picture: It's hard for a boycott — even one that features 1,000+ big prominent brands — to limit Facebook's income, which mostly comes from small businesses around the world with few advertising options.

Catch up quick: The #StopHateForProfit boycott launched in June by civil rights activists got more than 1,000 brands to support it by pulling ad spend from Facebook and some other social media giants in July.

  • While some brands, like Ben & Jerry's, say they are extending their boycotts further, many plan to resume spending with Facebook now that July is over.

By the numbers: In an earnings call with investors, Facebook's CFO David Wehner said that the company's top 100 advertisers contributed roughly 16% of its total quarterly revenue last quarter.

  • He noted that this was a lower percentage from last year, meaning Facebook has been able to diversify even further away from relying on big brands in the last year.
  • For the third quarter, Facebook said that during the first three weeks in July, when the boycott was full steam, total ad revenue grew by 10% year over year.
  • While this rate is lower than usual for Facebook, it's roughly what analysts expected, given the global ad slowdown during the pandemic.
  • Facebook says it expects to see that level of ad growth continue for the remainder of the quarter.
  • The pandemic-driven ad slowdown handed Facebook its slowest quarter ever for advertising growth (up 11%) since it went public in 2012. Facebook is still growing even as Google lost ad revenue last quarter because Facebook relies more on sectors that have ramped up during the pandemic, like e-commerce, while Google depends on industries, like travel and hospitality, that have largely shut down.

Yes, but: The boycott still serves as a significant reputational problem for the tech giant, as it puts pressure on the company to address its shortcomings around hate speech.

  • During the earnings call Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg staunchly defended the company's efforts to combat hate speech.
  • "[S]ome seem to wrongly assume that most of the content on our services is about politics, news, misinformation or hate," Zuckerberg said.
  • "These make up a small part of the content on our services, although they are all things that people generally tell us they'd like to see even less of. We do not profit from misinformation or hate," he continued.
  • "We completely agree that we don't want hate on our platforms, and we stand firmly against it," Sandberg said. "We don't benefit from hate speech. We never have. Users don't want to see it. Advertisers don't want to be associated with it."

What's next: Boycott organizers told Axios that there's more to come from their campaign, which is beginning to extend overseas, but for the most part, the boycott will not continue into August.

  • In a statement, the boycott organizers said, "This movement will not go away until Facebook makes the reasonable changes that society wants. The ad pause in July was not a full campaign — it was a warning shot across Facebook’s bow. "
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