Behold advertisers holding their media suppliers accountable on moral grounds. Gasp, as big dogs push Facebook off the roster! That’ll show ‘em! Or will it?
We begin this examination of sword-rattling with a little math.
According to CNN: “Of the 25 largest spenders on Facebook ads last year, only three companies — Microsoft, Starbucks and Pfizer — have publicly confirmed their plans to pause marketing on Facebook. Those top 25 businesses, according to the data, accounted for an estimated $2 billion of Facebook advertising spend, or nearly 3% of Facebook's 2019 revenues.”
Except they are talking about a one month “pause”, so let’s say the real impact is 1/12th of $2 billion, or $160 million, or .2% of FB revenue. The astute among you will realize that is a lot like Dr. Evil asking for one million dollars.
The core question is whether Facebook will reverse course on a stable strategic position (can’t be the arbiter of truth) on the strength of that threat?
Probably not -- but certainly, Mark Zuckerberg will say the company will do it. It may have already.
However, between the almost laughable lack of facts, the virtual impossibility of the task, and the preening and posturing of almost everyone involved, any truth will be fogged over before lunch on day 1.
The complexities of capitulation
The easy path for Facebook is to beef up existing content restrictions, but that’s not likely to impress anyone. What netizens and advertisers want is for Facebook to own the content -- to be accountable. That’s a big ask.
Let’s examine just a few of the elements of chaos working against a civil outcome.
Bots.Between April and September of 2019, Facebook removed 3.2 billion fake accounts and 3.0 billion in the six months prior to that, according to the company.
Many of these fake profiles were posting pro-Donald Trump political content. So, assuming the worst, there are/were more fake Facebook users posting hate content for Trump than there are humans on the planet.
By the way, those bots/users look like eyeballs, so we might assume advertisers will pay to reach them, and further assume that Facebook will contend that advertisers do not pay for reach to fake users, or equivocate -- but the numbers are staggering.
The President. He seems bothered not because of dissemination of hate, but because platforms won’t disseminate his particular brand of hate. So, basically, Trump and the advertisers are on opposite sides. The single most powerful thing advertisers could do would be to support a candidate that does not engender hate.
The 2020 election. Politicians of all stripes will use Facebook and targeted marketing to inexpensively access their influence targets. Will their own political messages be seen as hateful under Facebook’s updated editorial rules? Some will be, so they will be hung by their own petard. They are likely to be paralyzed by the mere contemplation of having to legislate against the best political marketing tool in history.
Even if Facebook comes with a strong promise, policing is another matter. Like, what will happen? “This message caused rats to hate each other in the State of California”?
What’s in it for Facebook if the revenue threat is not enough to force real change? Indeed, why would it cave, really?
That’s easy, too. It loads the company up with ammo for indignation if the government tries to intervene. “Wait, Mr. Government, we hate hate as much as the next guy, and we made huuuuuuge sacrifices to walk the walk,” etc. Also, of course, Zuckerberg wants the world off his back.
Remember, too, that Facebook’s point of view has at least a little merit. It’s simply allowing people to post messages and ads to people who claim to be their friends. AT&T doesn’t have to clean up your group texts.
In this regard, Facebook is more symptom than disease, and more tool than outcome.
We are bent out of shape because the people accustomed to crafting the narrative have lost control of a huge channel, and the people against whom we now struggle are even more crafty, better funded, and more venomous than the rest of us.
Limits on free speech need to catch up to the technology, but wholesale censorship is a slippery slope.
The ugly truth is that hate gets attention. Hate is drama. Advertising is fueled by attention. So, hate makes for cheap effectiveness, especially when selling snake oil. So, we the people are the problem. We are entertained by hate -- except when we hate it.