By Martinne Geller
LONDON (Reuters) – Advertisers who boycotted social media are not all rushing back, despite an agreement by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter on how to curb harmful content online.
Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, told Reuters the move this week was “a good step in the right direction,” but would not say whether it would resume paid advertising on Facebook in the United States next year after stopping over the summer.
Coca-Cola also remains paused on Facebook and Instagram and declined to say if this changed its view. Beam Suntory, maker of Jim Beam bourbon and Courvoisier Cognac, plans to stay away from paid advertising for the rest of 2020 and reassess in 2021 based on how Facebook adjusts its approach.
Over 1,000 advertisers joined a Facebook boycott over concerns it wasn’t doing enough to combat hate speech. U.S. civil rights groups enlisted multinationals to help pressure the social media giant after the June death of George Floyd, an American Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.
“Brands are very concerned about having any affiliation with the disinformation that runs through the big tech platforms,” said Michael Priem, CEO of advertising technology firm Modern Impact.
Deciding whether to pull ads from social media can be tough. Larger brands can afford to take a stance, but for smaller businesses that have already been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, “it’s either make it or die,” Priem said.
On Wednesday, the World Federation of Advertisers announced that social media platforms and advertisers had committed to create common definitions of harmful content such as hate speech and harmonized reporting standards.
A Facebook spokeswoman said on Friday that advertisers were returning to the platform.
“For the most part advertisers are coming back because they recognize the efforts we’re making,” the spokeswoman said. “We’re never satisfied. We’ll continue to work with industry and with our clients.”
She said that 95% of the hate speech removed by Facebook is detected before being reported, up from 23% in 2017.
“Digital media is now more than half of all media spending yet is still operating with very few boundaries other than those that are self-imposed or that marketers try to enforce. It’s time for digital platforms to apply content standards properly,” Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, said on Wednesday.
The maker of Gillette razors and Pampers diapers said it will “continue to advocate for greater transparency, reporting, and enforcement” directly with platforms and through industry forums.
Many companies, such as drinks giant Pernod Ricard, returned to Facebook in August after a one-month pause aimed at sending a message.
“I feel very happy … with the outcome. I think it worked,” said Eric Benoist, global marketing director for the maker of Absolut vodka and Martell Cognac. “It was a wake-up call. They heard it loud and clear.”
Some advertisers, like spirits group Diageo, came back following direct engagement with the platform and evidence of action.
“Some progress has been made, but more needs to be done and we think we’re better able to bring about change by working together,” a Diageo spokeswoman said. “We are in the process of resuming paid media and will continue to drive accountability on these pressing issues.”
Campaign organizers remain skeptical and pledged to keep up the heat.
“We cannot assume progress from yet another commitment to change until we see the impact and breadth of policy enforcement by these companies,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change, a backer of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which organized the boycott.
“As long as these companies continue to abdicate their responsibility to their most vulnerable users, we will continue to call on Congress and regulatory agencies to intervene.”
(Reporting by Martinne Geller in London; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang in New York and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; Editing by Carmel Crimmins)