Will July Hurt Facebook? And Haven’t We Been Here Before?

Brandon Grosvenor wrote this on Jul 09, 2020 | 0 comments

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It’s already been a long month for Facebook and today’s July 3rd. Actually, it’s just Zuckerberg. He controls everything. Even Facebook’s Board of Directors can’t overrule him. A week ago, Zuck lost $7 billion in a day because major brands, from Adidas to ZoeFincial, pulled their advertising dollars for a month (maybe longer). They’re supporting the #StopHateForProfit boycott.

The issue? They believe Zuck isn’t doing enough to stop the spread of lies and hateful content on Facebook, the world’s biggest media company. Or as Zuck prefers to position Facebook, not a media company so much as a technology platform. (He says apples/oranges. They say tomayto/tomahto.)

What does Stop Hate for Profit Want?

Earlier this week, Damien Huang, president of the Eddie Bauer clothing brand, spoke on behalf of the Stop Hate movement with Ed Butler of the BBC, citing three important changes. Huang says Facebook must: “Reduce the amount of hate speech … Stop propagating blatantly false information across their platforms.” Note the use of the plural: Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. Huang went on: “Lastly, we’d like more transparency … into what drives the content distribution.” He added that if Facebook’s connecting 3 billion people in the world, “Surely these are small requests for us as a society.”

It’s that third request that hits the nub of the issue. Facebook’s algorithm delivers more of “what drives the content” user to click. Our atavistic brains haven’t changed much for 40,000 years. When you’re enraged or frightened, adrenaline clears the decks of creative and rational thought. That makes us all putty in the hands of the social media companies’ algorithms.

According to business author and corporate behaviourist Brady Wilson, the fearful brain diminishes its creative options from upwards of 720 to as few as two. That minimizing default was helpful when we were all running from lions on the savannah awhile back. Fear’s great for focus. Trouble is, your focus (aka attention) is what Facebook sells.

If your fearful brain limits you to just one or two options, one choice would be to get the help of the people you trust. So, you’ll share this danger and pass your rage on.

Hence the expression ‘virality’. Lots of viral content is vile and sick because fear sells. Don’t take our word for it. Steven Levy, author of Facebook: The Inside Story said earlier this week, “If you look at the top 10 viral posts each month on Facebook, it’s not healthy stuff.”

Media companies have always known that ‘if it bleeds it leads.’ Of course, Facebook’s not a media company, it’s a tech platform. So Zuck couldn’t know that.

But doesn’t all this sound familiar?

This ain’t Zuck’s first rodeo. Since 2016 (hmm, what happened that year?) Facebook’s spent hundreds of millions on ‘content moderators’ and developing AI to sift through galaxies of filthy, hateful and disgusting data, trying to diminish the hate speech and outright lies. But it can’t because the algorithm’s still there.

It’s a bit like stealing and guzzling a pallet full of beer, then leaving a case out of empties out front for the neighbours to return to demonstrate that you’re sorry, while hijacking the next forklift full of beer.

So, will things change this time? By Canada Day over 500 companies had piled on the groaning bandwagon to not advertise on Facebook in July. Maybe Zuck’s feeling the heat and not wearing the hoodie today.

Bless those brave brands. Ain’t they some corporate angels?

Brands hate to be on the wrong side of an issue and are notoriously (small c) conservative. But as Terry O’Reilly observed in his Under the Influence radio show/podcast a couple of seasons ago, brands can no longer afford to avoid politics. Silence is dangerous.

Plus, if they’re courting the under-50 crowd, brands need not just to choose sides. They must suit their actions to their words.

But brands do need to choose sides these days. If they sit on the fence, they’re going to get splinters in the rear from likes of TikTok-loving K-pop bombers, who are savvy, fast and really funny.

Moreover, before we start handing out the pinstriped halos for walking the talk, let’s remember that these advertisers are saving millions of dollars simply by not advertising. Meanwhile, this week and likely all month, their names ring loud throughout the news cycles and Brand Grow blogs — all worth untold millions in media value — free!

But will these losses really hurt Facebook much? It made $70 billion last year.

We have seen all this before. 1) Facebook threatens democracy. 2) Zuck abases himself, asking and answering questions like “Could we have done more? Yes.” 3) Then he goes back to business as usual and we all go back to liking cat videos.

Still this is different. Levy observes that’s that this time Facebook’s own employees are speaking out. What in 2017 he called “a love affair, a cult of Zuckerberg in Facebook” is changing. Now in 2020, key staff are even quitting. If Zuck wants to be dominant in ten years — and he does — he needs the AI engineers, programmers and such. If they don’t want to work for him, he’ll crumble. So, does he blink?

Forgive our lily-livered Canadian prediction, but we kinda doubt it but will wait to see. There’s still this most important point: where Facebook utterly dominates advertising to a near monopoly is among small- and medium-sized business.

Indeed, the “big-name brands only make up a fraction of the tens of billions that Facebook makes annually” says Butler.

Conclusion? The big brands get to look on in righteous and profitable indignation and smaller businesses which, you may have noticed, aren’t surviving the pandemic so well will likely feel more pressure.

Submitted by Steven Bochenek – Special Contributor to Brand Grow Media Inc.

 

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