If Facebook Won’t Change, It’s Time to Divest
When Facebook was founded, it started out as a platform that was intended to build meaningful relationships and communities. For nonprofits, that provided an incredible opportunity to engage and reach supporters organically, and drive donations in a cost-effective manner. As a result, many nonprofits began investing their time and money into Facebook, and many have continued that commitment up to the present day.
Over the years, however, the platform has changed into a profit-hungry partner. One that secretly collects and sells data, sometimes illegally and for political purposes (see Cambridge Analytica scandal). One that continuously puts profit ahead of the best interest of the general public. And one that suppresses vital information from reaching underserved communities and minorities in our society.
As an agency, all of this is deeply personal for Media Cause. We have experience questioning and seeing the lack of integrity at Facebook firsthand. Our story dates back to 2013, when they rewrote their algorithm to increase profitability by forcing organizations to pay for boosted posts in order to reach the organic communities they’d already built on the platform. Prior to this change, organizations could effectively reach their established followers with free, organic posts. In order to make more money, Facebook changed its foundation and became pay-to-play, effectively leaving many nonprofits without sufficient financial resources behind. While we didn’t fault Facebook for prioritizing their company’s profit, we felt that it was important to advocate for the nonprofit community that was being disproportionately hurt by this change. As such, we created a petition calling on Facebook to offer some form of free advertising for nonprofits. Facebook responded by suspending our agency advertising account and turning off all our clients’ campaigns (approximately 20 nonprofits at the time) for an entire week. At first, no one at Facebook responded to our questions about why our clients’ accounts were turned off. We pressed them further for answers and were finally told this issue wasn’t caused by a system error—that our clients’ accounts were turned off manually, but the person did it “by accident.” We know we are not alone in our less-than-upstanding experience working with this tech giant. Based on their public policies and newsworthy scandals, this is just one example of the many distrustful things Facebook has done: implementing biased algorithm changes, allowing data breaches, implementing fundraising fees, and the list goes on. Facebook has continuously chosen the path that demonstrates they do not deserve to be trusted.
Facebook makes 99% of its revenue from advertising. Therefore, divesting from Facebook Ads is the single most effective way anyone can take a stand. Any ongoing ad spend is actively contributing to the spread of misinformation, and the shady data collection practices used to hurt marginalized communities. We know that these actions benefit certain politically motivated groups above others—putting our privacy, and our putting our democracy, at risk. That is why as an agency, Media Cause is joining the Stop Hate for Profit movement to tell Facebook that they need to make major changes.
However, it’s important to note that we understand the specific challenges many nonprofits face with the potential ramifications of turning off their Facebook ads. Those ads drive fundraising efforts that help them fulfill their important missions, and without the exposure, their work is at risk. As stewards of our clients’ missions, first and foremost, we must do what’s in their best interest. So while we as an agency are joining the movement, we acknowledge that for many nonprofits, turning off Facebook on short notice isn’t possible, nor prudent, and we support their decision not to participate in this campaign. We understand that these decisions are based on a number of factors—most importantly, their ability to fulfill their missions. Our top priority is supporting our clients in their vital work, and helping them make a positive impact through effective marketing, fundraising, and advocacy efforts. But we also feel a deep responsibility to support other nonprofits and organizations, helping to ensure that as an industry, there are effective options beyond Facebook that allow them to reach their online marketing and fundraising goals and make the greatest impact possible.
With this in mind, we are committed to diversifying our advertising and divesting from Facebook unless they implement drastic changes to their policies. For us, this looks like the following steps:
- Dedicate resources to help find solutions and platforms to replace Facebook. Commit ourselves to find long-term solutions to fulfill our clients’ missions.
- Continue to not advertise Media Cause on Facebook + Instagram moving forward.
- Go dark throughout July on Facebook + Instagram. We will not post any content on the platform as Media Cause.
- Help any organization diversify its advertising by leveraging new or different tactics and platforms.
We can no longer ignore the fact that Facebook does not have our personal, organizational, or even our society’s best interests in mind. That’s why we are standing with the Stop Hate for Profit campaign and the organizations boycotting the platform. Change must come if Facebook wants organizations to continue to grow their bottom line.
Media Cause is in this fight for the long haul. While we hope that July’s boycott serves as a wakeup call for Facebook, we are prepared to stay the course for August and beyond. However, as a social impact-focused company, we also acknowledge that our team will still need to engage with the platform in order to ensure the growth of our clients. At the same time, we’ll also be focusing our attention on helping our clients, and any other organizations who needs support, diversify their advertising from Facebook and Instagram by finding alternative ways to reach their marketing, fundraising, and advocacy goals. Over the last several years, our team has been exploring a growing number of alternative ad platforms and technologies, and has gained rich experience with new ways to better incorporate CRM databases, leverage programmatic supporter retargeting, utilize untapped creative approaches, and better segment email communications as other avenues for deepening engagement. This is the hard work we’re invested in continuing. Not just for us, but for the greater good of all nonprofits. If you have challenges or questions, or want to learn more about other options for reaching your goals, we’re here to help. And we’d love to hear from you.