Feb 1, 2022 - Technology

Big Tech boycotts tend to be short-lived

Data: Google Trends; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Spotify's weekend of boycott threats may have made headlines, but recent history suggests the controversy won't dent Spotify's business.

Why it matters: Boycotts of tech services have become more frequent amid growing political polarization and frustration over misinformation. But data shows that boycotts and the press attention around them are typically fleeting.

Driving the news: Spotify's stock was up more than 13% Monday, after its most popular podcaster, Joe Rogan, said he agreed with Spotify's newly announced platform changes to label any podcast episodes with COVID-19 discussion.

  • Some critics argued the streamer didn't go far enough, but by making some changes and unveiling its policies, Spotify was able to reassure investors without triggering much further backlash from mainstream artists.

Be smart: Even some of the most intense boycotts hardly impacted Big Tech giants beyond a single news cycle.

  • Facebook's boycott by major advertisers in June of 2020 certainly sucked up a lot of press attention, but it barely impacted the tech giant's revenue, and most advertisers returned to the platform after a month. The public and the media, according to Google trends data, quickly moved on.
  • YouTube faced a serious advertiser boycott in 2017, but months later said that most advertisers had returned to the company. The company's ad business continues to balloon, in part because — like Facebook — it's not reliant on blue-chip advertisers for the majority of its revenue. (Mainstream brands usually face the most pressure to boycott tech firms in the wake of scandal.)
  • Netflix saw a brief spike in subscription cancellations following backlash to the debut of a French film called "Cuties," but the following quarter, Netflix's subscriber additions spiked again.
  • Amazon was the target of a viral pro-labor boycott campaign timed to a union push in Bessemer, Ala. The labor union teaming up with the Alabama workers said it was not involved in the boycott call, and many argued the effort was counterproductive. In the month following the campaign — and the voted-down union drive (since ordered to be redone) — Amazon stock jumped 33%.

Yes, but: Boycotts have also sometimes forced tech firms to make policy changes or to be more forthcoming about their content-moderation policies.

  • Neil Young's ultimatum to Spotify ultimately inspired other artists to join his crusade, which eventually forced Spotify to publish its closely held content-moderation policies and to add a disclosure to podcasts discussing COVID-19.

What to watch: Young, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren and podcaster Brené Brown have been the only big names to ditch Spotify.

  • It would take a much bigger exodus from the Spotify library to alter the company's calculus on Rogan.
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