Verizon joins Facebook advertising boycott

Verizon has become the latest brand to pull its digital advertising spending from Facebook over concerns about its content moderation policies, saying the social media group needs to “create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable”.

The US telecoms company on Thursday joined a growing boycott of Facebook — alongside firms such as The North Face, Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream and ad agency Goodby Silverstein — in response to the social network’s handling of hate speech and decision to allow several contentious posts from US President Donald Trump to remain on its platform. 

The move by the blue-chip company, first reported by CNBC, comes after the civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League published an open letter to companies that advertise on Facebook on Thursday. In the letter, the ADL said it had found a Verizon advert on Facebook that appeared next to a misleading video from the conspiracy group QAnon “drawing on hateful and antisemitic rhetoric”.

John Nitti, Verizon’s chief media officer, said in a statement that his company’s “brand safety standards have not changed”, adding: “We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance when they are breached, we take action. We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.”

Verizon is the biggest organisation to join the boycott to date, spending an estimated $850,000 in advertising on Facebook in the first three weeks of June, according to ad intelligence group Pathmatics.

Last week, the ADL plus several other activist groups launched a boycott of Facebook under the hashtag “stop hate for profit”, urging advertisers to curb their spending on the platform throughout the month of July.

Facebook has come under fire in particular for not taking down a post by Mr Trump that used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, in reference to the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

Brands including apparel groups Patagonia, The North Face and Eddie Bauer, as well as Ben & Jerry’s, are among those that have paused advertising.

In addition, Goodby Silverstein, part of Omnicom Group, with clients such as Cisco, BMW and Pepsi, on Wednesday became the first big ad agency to join the boycott, saying it wanted to “protest the platform’s irresponsible propagation of hate speech, racism, and misleading voter information”. 

Meanwhile, Facebook has been rushing to stem the growing number of brands now shunning its services through proactive lobbying; earlier this week it defended its policies on a private conference call with almost 200 advertisers, according to leaked audio obtained by the Financial Times, with top policy executives admitting that the company had a “trust deficit” but saying they were “here to listen” to marketers.

Several other big advertisers, such as Nestlé and Procter & Gamble, have raised concerns about hate speech on Facebook but have stopped short of pulling spending from the platform. 

Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s global business group vice-president, said in a statement: “We respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organisations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”