Post Facebook: Addressing the Monopolistic Power of Facebook

July 1, 2020

Scroll

Today marks the beginning of an unprecedented corporate activism campaign that sees in excess of 500 companies pull their advertising budgets from Facebook and its other platforms for its lack of action to limit the spread of hate and misinformation that divides and radicalizes. Collectively this will strip tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue from the company and potentially billions of dollars off the company’s value. When Unilever announced its bold commitment to pull all US advertising from Facebook and Instagram to the end of 2020, Facebook’s stock plunged 7%. 

In the wake of Facebook’s continued failure to tackle hate speech across its platforms, a coalition of civil rights groups in the US joined forces to establish the Stop Hate for Profit campaign. As the campaign gathers momentum, we are seeing Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg take on near pariah status with hits to their revenue, their relationship with advertisers, their reputation, and their social licence.

Whether the campaign drives change at Facebook or not, the campaign just further highlights the challenge that many democracies are facing. How healthy can our democracies be when our information market is so dominated by the monopoly power of a single company? A company whose business model is to keep your eyes on the screen by serving you a constant stream of curated content, which tends to be that which stokes your emotions with outrage, sensation or controversy. The algorithms don’t care about the factual accuracy or potential for harm of that content, nor what emotion it makes you feel – just as long as you stay logged on, driving more revenue through the ads that are served.  

While the target audience of the advertising boycott does not include campaigns that Purpose runs using Facebook – nor other organisations and campaigners that use the platform to mobilise and engage communities to fight for social and environmental justice – we took the opportunity to do a rapid assessment of all our campaigns across the world. We wanted to understand how central Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are to our projects reaching, engaging, and mobilizing audiences in the fight for an open, just, and habitable world.

In July alone, our campaigns will be reaching audiences across more than 100 countries from Brazil and India to the UK, US, Australia, Kenya, Indonesia, and Poland. This work is addressing everything from Covid-19 misinformation, to climate change, to access to healthcare, early childhood development, and much more in between. While not overly surprising, 100% of our work in some way relies on Facebook’s platforms to enable our partners to reach their audiences and constituents on critical issues impacting vulnerable and marginalised communities. If we were to have joined the boycott, the lack of alternatives would have significantly damaged our ability to have impact. 

It was obvious already, but what this further confirms is that Facebook has done an incredible job in dominating and owning the channels that we use to communicate and organize. Through addictive design and strategic acquisition, their platforms relentlessly capture our attention, a finite resource, and shape our perspective through echo chambers that distort our relationship with truth. But we as citizens, consumers, audiences, along with the Governments we elect, have been a part of enabling Facebook to amass this power and influence to the point that we are now so completely beholden to the platform, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. 

Purpose is working to address some of this power and the negative impacts of the platforms. Our partnership with Reset Tech and Luminate Group to establish Responsible Technology Australia is an example of how we are working to counter the threats to democracy and public safety posed by unregulated digital platforms like Facebook. Likewise, through campaigns such as The Misinformation Medic where we are calling for transparency around what content is going viral and to enact a circuit breaker for harmful content that is going viral, much like those used by financial markets that can pause trading; and the recently launched Pause, a UN Covid-19 Misinformation initiative (#TakeCareBeforeYouShare,) that is using behavioural approaches to slow the spread of dangerous misinformation. All of these initiatives, alongside the recent traction of the Facebook ad boycott are contributing to reining in the power of the big social media platforms and the negative influence they are having on our information ecosystem. 

While this work continues, the snapshot of our projects demonstrating the reliance on Facebook has also made us realise that there is more we can be doing. This situation is not going to change overnight. The stark reality is that our work, and that of campaigners across the world, will continue to rely on the monopolistic power of Facebook. However, let’s use this moment as a call to action. There are three ways to undermine the dominance of Facebook:

1. Hitting its ad revenue:

    • If you are an advertiser, regardless of the country you are based in, participate in the boycott
    • As a consumer, urge the brands you love to join the boycott
    • As nonprofits and foundations, amplify the boycott through your channels

 

2. Giving citizens more power and agency over their personal data:

    • Learn more about the issue and your rights. Check out The Great Hack and new film The Social Dilemma (coming soon) or for a deeper dive look to work by Shoshana Zuboff and Renee diResta
    • Join local campaigns and support digital rights organizations to increase their power and influence to make change

 

3. Creating, fostering and powering new alternatives for reaching audiences:

It’s in this third strand that this moment has given us pause to reflect what more we can be doing. As campaigners, strategists, creatives at Purpose and across the sectors we collaborate, we need to be restless and relentless to experiment and test with new ways to connect with our audiences – to diversify our tactics & break the single reliance on one corporate entity.

 

Over the coming weeks and months we are going to increase our focus on other channels and alternative approaches. We will revert back & share more. In the meantime, if you have any great examples of Post Facebook campaigns that are breaking the reliance on their platform, please share with us.


Simon Goff Partner & Managing Director, Purpose Australia & Asia Pacific