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The Film Industry Needs to Join the Movement and Reject Facebook Advertising — Opinion

As the #StopHateForProfit advertising boycott goes global, the entertainment industry is on the sidelines. That needs to change.

A close-up image shows the slogan of the 'StopHateForProfit' campaign on the organization's website displayed on a smartphone screen in Cologne, Germany, 29 June 2020. Dozens of companies have joined a call for an advertising boycott on Facebook to protest against the American tech giant's handling of hateful comments and derogatory content in its services. The #StopHateForProfit initiative lists more than 160 US companies on its website that have stopped advertising on Facebook in the USA for the time being.Stop Hate For Profit: Advertising boycott against Facebook, Cologne, Germany - 29 Jun 2020

A close-up image shows the slogan of the “StopHateForProfit” campaign on the organization’s website

SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

For the past few weeks, practically every business involved in the film industry — from studios to platforms to agencies to Filmmakers — has signaled their support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is a great thing, especially if it leads to action.

But when it comes to a closely related cause — the #StopHateForProfit boycott of Facebook — the industry has been largely silent. This needs to change. The film industry needs to follow the lead of Magnolia Pictures and join the #StopHateForProfit campaign, fast. The campaign starts July 1, and as of this writing, it looks like the only film companies on the official list of those boycotting Facebook in July are Magnolia, Boston’s 700-seat Coolidge Corner Theater, “Sesame Street,” and somewhat tangentially, Verizon.

More may add their names soon, but that’s a pretty low count. Where are the other indie distributors? The film festivals? The studios, broadcasters and platforms (especially)? Where are the nonprofits who support filmmakers, and run the award shows? Where are we in the mix?

I’m sure the Coolidge’s Facebook ad spend isn’t huge. But as many have pointed out, Facebook makes its billions not only on major advertisers but also the many small businesses that buy eyeballs there. Most Facebook revenue comes from advertising; between Facebook and Instagram, it collects 23.4 percent of all domestic digital ad revenue, and it grows at a rate of 32 percent per year. And the film industry spends a lot on advertising. From the little indie trying to sell a film on Vimeo to the big studio pushing for their latest release, we pour money into Facebook.

Sure, boycotts rarely work. And Facebook will not crumble because of this. But their stock is tanking, and it’s hitting Zuckerberg’s wallet hard: In two days, Facebook lost $60 billion on market value. It’s already been forced to pledge changes, especially as major advertisers like Unilever and Coke joined the protest. The more that join, the better chance we’ll see some kind of  change on the platform.

Change is needed. As the boycott organizers puts it on their home page, Facebook could work to build a more civil platform, but instead:

They allowed incitement to violence against protesters fighting for racial justice in America in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and so many others. They named Breitbart News a “trusted news source” and made The Daily Caller a “fact checker” despite both publications having records of working with known white nationalists. They turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression on their platform. Could they protect and support Black users? Could they call out Holocaust denial as hate? Could they help get out the vote? They absolutely could. But they are actively choosing not to do so. 99% of Facebook’s $70 billion is made through advertising. Who will advertisers stand with? Let’s send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence.

It’s not going to be easy. Facebook works. You can target the right audiences and convert them into sales (and in regular times, butts in seats). Facebook’s own research shows that for every dollar spent, movies see an $8 return. Posts need paid promotion to get any attention. And with the film business almost completely online now, we need customer acquisition via social media perhaps more than ever. Yes, Republicans watch films, too, but this shouldn’t be just about right vs. left.

When password management app Dashlane joined the boycott June 22, CMO Joy Howard wrote: “Facebook’s engagement-focused algorithms stoke social flames by amplifying opinions that otherwise would live at the fringes. This drive to polarity is baked into the product.”

Facebook claims it is listening to the public, advertisers, and their employees, and are making changes. But as Howard continues, “As we’ve seen from recent exposés, Facebook is not committed to change. I’ve worked for positive change inside big companies, and even when my proposals have been rejected it has never been with the disregard that Zuckerberg shows his employees in this article. It’s clear that Facebook is all talk, and will not take responsibility for its role in Surveillance Capitalism out of a sense of moral duty. They will only say what money makes them say. It’s time for us to put our money where their mouth is.”

Facebook’s primary customers are advertisers, and we must take a stand. The film industry is a major driver, with a loud voice that gets consumer’s attention. Think about it for a second: Unilever, Coke, Colgate-Palmolive, Dennys (!), Reebok, Patagonia, REI, Starbucks, and even Hershey have signed the pledge. The movement is now going global, and will bring in more major brands. How is it that big “bad” corporations are joining the cause, but we’ve only got two or three film and media companies willing to take a public stand and do the right thing?

It’s not hard. With major releases pushed due to COVID-19, the cynic in me says studios could take this stand, move marketing into August, and “Tenet” would still fill any open theaters. Of course, my hope is the industry will take a stance that keeps pushing Facebook until it makes meaningful change. That should be something the majority of the industry supports, not just a couple of brave independents.

Brian Newman is the producer of “The Outside Story” (Tribeca Film Festival, 2020), and founder of Sub-Genre, a consultancy helping brands make and distribute films. 

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