Facebook is the largest, most important and most comprehensive social network in the world. Thanks to numerous acquisitions such as Instagram or WhatsApp and the development of the Facebook messenger, the group influences almost all internet users in the western world. Only the Chinese platform WeChan penetrates into similar spheres. But rarely has the Facebook group been under so much pressure as in the summer of 2020.
A well-known pop culture quote is: "With great power comes great responsibility". In this sense, Facebook could have already been a social pioneer on several issues and polished up its sometimes tarnished image. But neither during the 2016 US presidential election, when numerous fake commercials played their part in the election of Donald Trump, nor during the #BlackLivesMatter protests that flared up again in the early summer of 2020 did Facebook react appropriately and quickly. While new rules for posts and Facebook Ads were introduced independently in the aftermath of the 2016 election, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not initially react at all to the emerging criticism. Numerous companies such as Twitter actively spoke out against hate speech and defamation in their networks - Zuckerberg countered with active freedom of speech. Criticism of all kinds bounced off him - until the companies intervened and publicly announced that they would no longer place ads on Facebook.
The list of companies joining the #StopHateforProfit initiative of an advertising boycott against the internet giant keeps growing. The initiators want to persuade Facebook to deal more responsibly with hate messages on its platforms.
Global corporations like Coca-Cola and Unilever are on board. In Germany, for example, VW, SAP, Adidas and Puma want to turn off the money tap for Facebook at least in the month of July 2020. SAP, for example, explained its participation in the Handelsblatt as follows: "For sustainable change, we too must question our role on platforms that systematically promote the spread of hate and racism."
Even for boss Mark Zuckerberg's billion-dollar company, this is a dangerous trend. The first financial consequences cannot be overlooked: The Facebook share has meanwhile recorded a slump of eight percent. This corresponds to a loss in value of 56 billion US dollars. Zuckerberg's private assets shrank by seven billion dollars within a few hours.
No wonder that the boss himself immediately reacted to the growing pressure with a long post and promised new rules on his platforms (including Facebook, Instagram). Facebook now wants to change its standards for discriminatory advertising. Zuckerberg also announced, among other things, warnings for posts that violate guidelines but are of increased public interest. This is similar to what the Twitter platform recently did when dealing with statements by US President Donald Trump.
Facebook's action against the extreme right-wing US network "Boogaloo" can also be understood as a reaction to the advertising boycott. Facebook deleted hundreds of accounts and blocked several dozen pages and groups.
Zuckerberg had already announced changes on his platforms a few weeks ago, but the pressure of the lost advertising revenue is likely to have accelerated the implementation of the measures at Facebook significantly. Even if Facebook does not falter so quickly financially, the company must fear the long-term consequences through (further) damage to its image. While companies can put their own brand in a positive light and show attitude by announcing that they will temporarily no longer advertise on Facebook, Zuckerberg's corporation is left with only the villain role. Socially committed and responsible companies on the one hand against the unscrupulous "data octopus" from Silicon Valley on the other.
This episode impressively shows how vulnerable Facebook has become, or rather how much the business model is dependent on big companies with money to spend. The network with a communication focus of yesteryear has become a gigantic advertisinv platform. Visibility for posts is now only guaranteed if they are pushed accordingly or if the content is extremely high quality. How long this practice will continue is impossible to predict. The fact is, however, that Facebook will have to change its business model again if it does not want to lose relevance. Competitors are waiting in the wings.
A manifested negative perception could actually endanger Facebook's business model. Namely, if companies were to turn their backs on the company permanently and increasingly look for alternatives. After all, user data is only of value to Facebook as long as there are enough companies willing to pay for it. At the same time, Facebook as a platform has a like problem among young people. The Fridays-for-Future generation of under-25s can still be found on Instagram, but they often switch to other, new services like Twitch and TikTok. However, when it comes to companies maintaining direct dialogue with customers, Facebook and its platforms continue to have unbroken appeal and market power. Many brands will not voluntarily give up this opportunity in the long term.
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