Women (and the people who love them) Go After Facebook's Advertisers | MIT Center for Civic Media

Women (and the people who love them) Go After Facebook's Advertisers

Strong social campaigns are based on a strong theory of change: how is my action (x) actually going to lead to desired change in the world (y)? Is that strategy sound? Is it effective?

Earlier tussles with Facebook, over issues like the site's distribution of user data (News Feed), or the site's removal of innocent breastfeeding photos, have appealed to the company directly, often on the platform itself. But a company with a billion users can find it difficult to respond to a tiny percentage of those users, even assuming good intentions. What they might respond to more rapidly, though, is a threat to their advertising revenue.

Women, Action, & the Media (WAM!) has launched a campaign (#FBrape) to get Facebook to restrict user content that promotes violence against women. What WAM! is trying to do here is start a series of conversations. By telling the public that Facebook "promotes rape" (a declaration I have some trouble with, versus "fails to adequately censor offensive speech"), WAM! hopes to drive enough consumers to express their disappointment to some of Facebook's advertisers. Here's how it could work:

Get consumers to talk to brands
This is a familiar strategy. The Basta Dobbs campaign successfully convinced CNN to stop providing a megaphone for Lou Dobbs's racist venom. They did this not by sending a bunch of letters to CNN, but rather by mobilizing an important market (Latino consumers) to apply pressure to the brands that advertised on Dobbs's show. Many consumer brands would usually prefer to sell their product to as many people as possible. Most marketers have by now seen the trend pieces establishing that many Americans are Latino. This sometimes makes brands more responsive to concerted public pressure than the media, huge social media platforms, or the government.

campaign gets consumers to tweet at brands

Get brands to talk to the actual target
The #FBrape campaign then reignites a long-running conversation between advertisers and the tech companies that run their ads next to user content. Media buyers, particularly the mainstream brands this campaign targets, have long been squeamish about what their valuable logo might appear adjacent to on a social network.

Dove ad appears next to offensive content

This fear was often stated by marketer thoughtleader types in the early 2000s as a reason social networks might not make much money. Clearly the sheer scale of the networks allows for money to be made, even at pennies on the dollar of traditional advertising with its relatively safer inventory placements. But this campaign raises the question again by actively engaging consumers to alert the brands in question that this is happening. The brands then mention this to Facebook in large enough numbers (or account sizes) to convince the company to change its policies.

(The brands with something to lose, that is. The people who run the belly fat ads will probably prove as unresponsive to this campaign as they are to Facebook's user targeting tools.)

In the Basta Dobbs campaign, the exodus of scores of lucrative sponsors attracted CNN's attention at a time when public complaints alone may not have. The #FBrape campaign's success or failure will hinge on how many advertisers they can peel off, how much revenue that represents, and how many advertisers Facebook is willing to lose rather than adapt its Community Standards policies governing speech on the site.

How much of global speech should Facebook policies govern?
Others, like nudity-celebrating Europeans, push against Facebook for restricting their expression with what they see as the US's antiquated Puritan values. (Their use of Facebook to organize a violation of Facebook's own terms may not have been the best idea, as their page was deleted by Facebook's moderators.) There are costs and benefits to allowing or censoring various types of speech, and anyone who thinks "free speech" is a simple concept should look at the US precedents in the area.

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