What It Means When Brands Boycott Social Media Ads

Photo: Jim Mone/AP/Shutterstock.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Color of Change, the Anti-Defamation League, and a group of other organizations have joined forces to create the #StopHateforProfit Campaign. The campaign's main objective is to stop online hate and racism by asking social media giants like Facebook to adopt new features that curb online hate and extremism. 
Facebook has long downplayed the role it plays in facilitating cyberbullying and online harassment, but the threat of cyberhate and online hate groups is very real for marginalized groups — it can intercept their access to jobs, resources, and safety. So to turn the heat up, the #StopHateforProfit Campaigns is asking brands to "hit pause on all advertising spend on Facebook properties for July."
It seems like pledges to hold on Facebook advertising are spreading to different industries, and brands eager to make amends (or look like they're making amends) are joining the cause. Last week the fashion world joined the Facebook boycott with brands from Patagonia to Vans announcing they would be taking part in the campaign. Food brands followed suit, with Ben & Jerry's committing to the boycott, and most recently, Starbucks.
By withdrawing their funds, the hope is that Facebook will be forced to reckon with the role it plays in online and offline hate and harassment, but the work doesn't stop there. The Coca Cola company announced on Friday that it will withhold from paid advertising across all social media platforms, not just Facebook properties.
Now is the time to be a skeptical consumer and ask that companies do more than grab at the low-hanging fruit. Since the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, companies across industries have been cutting back on ad spend, with many companies slashing their advertising budgets like never before. Many brands have been implementing these limits on ad placements by adding newsworthy terms like "COVID-19," "Black people," and "protests" to their blocklists (a list of terms their ads cannot be run next to) and making publications choose between reporting the news and keeping the lights on. So holding off on placing ads on a handful of platforms for a month isn't likely to be a major deviation from these companies' original plans. 
What's more, it's likely that these companies are as much a part of the problem: Starbucks has an ugly history of calling the cops on Black patrons. Ben & Jerry's, despite its radical politics, has yet to respond to a nearly decade-old call to sever its ties with the Israeli government, which is currently occupying Palestine. It's almost impossible to find a major fashion brand that doesn't exploit its workers or contribute to the excess generation of waste.
This isn't to say that a commitment to the Facebook boycott is in vain. However, it will ring as hollow virtue-signaling if it's not part of a bigger effort to right these wrongs.

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