Facebook ads backlash looks like common sense, not censorship

Press Gazette has been accused on Twitter of being ‘effing hypocrites’ for suggesting brands are right to boycott Facebook whilst previously signalling our opposition to the StopFundingHate campaign promoting a similar boycott of the tabloid media.

This criticism, which was made this week, appeared to confuse impartial editorial coverage with comment. But it did pose a question about where we stand on this issue.

So to step off the fence, my view is that you can back #Stophateforprofit and oppose StopFundingHate without being a hypocrite.

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The way I would justify this is to view it through the prism of the coronavirus crisis.

Research commissioned by King’s College London has found that those who get their news from Facebook are considerably more likely to believe that Covid-19 does not exist or that it is caused by 5G masts, rather than person-to-person contamination. They are also more likely to breach lockdown.

Misinformation widely aired and shared on Facebook about Covid-19 is literally costing lives.

During the pandemic any reader of The Sun, Express or Daily Mail would be left in no doubt that Covid-19 is a potentially deadly disease whose spread is curbed by social distancing.

Stophateforprofit is concerned by the prevalence of hate speech and misinformation on Facebook and feels that reputable brands should not advertise against this sort of content.

I’d be inclined to agree that if I was a chief marketing officer I would be extremely concerned if my advertising was appearing next to Covid-19 misinformation or hate speech. Far better to advertise via a reputable news organisation which, however flawed, at least has the virtue that all its content is checked, verified and legalled.

In 2017 I suggested that journalists should boycott Evans Cycles because it had “cast itself as an enemy of free speech by placing the Mail and Express titles and The Sun on a blacklist of advertisers who it will no longer spend money with”.

Evans dropped its advertising with the Mail because one of its adverts appeared next to a 2002 article by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday in which he said that homosexuality was “morally wrong”.

This was a loathsome piece. And there have been other occasions since when tabloid newspapers have overstepped the mark.

But compare this to the hundreds of pieces of misinformation that are shared every minute of every day on Facebook and the harm it is doing.

If a tabloid newspaper consistently carried misinformation about Covid-19 it would be closed down in days by an advertising boycott (as was the case with the News of the World in 2011 when the hacking scandal broke).

On the whole tabloid newspapers may be partisan, and they may campaign on issues that many disagree with (such as Brexit), but they also perform a vital democratic function and are homes to a diverse range of views.

Unlike Facebook, if they publish information which is breach of the law they are held accountable and pay a heavy price.

To me, an advertising boycott of Facebook looks like common sense whereas the Stopfundinghate movement felt more like an attempt to use commercial pressure to change the editorial agenda of the press.

 

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