Influential Media Watchdog Group Tells Ad Buyers To Pull Budgets from Facebook

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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A media watchdog group known for getting companies to pull their advertising from Fox News plans to pressure Facebook over how it handled Trump’s posts. Image: MMG

A media watchdog group known for getting companies and organizations to pull their advertising from Fox News, plans to put pressure on a new target — Facebook.

Media Matters for America plans to write a letter this month asking advertisers to rethink their spending on Facebook, The Information reported.

Facebook has been under pressure since refusing to take down posts by President Donald Trump that were viewed as misleading and widely believed to be aimed at disenfranchising Black voters and silencing Black voices.

In one post, Trump said mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud — an unsubstantiated claim that targets Black people and people of color. Experts say voter fraud is rare, according to FactCheck.org.

Twitter put a fact-checking label on Trump’s voter fraud comment and linked to news coverage debunking the claim, The Information reported. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, by comparison, wouldn’t touch the post.

Another Trump post that included the words, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” went untouched by Zuckerberg. Hundreds of Facebook employees protested the company’s unwillingness remove “the incendiary rhetoric”.

Zuckerberg argued that users needed to be informed of what it viewed as a warning about possible government action. Facebook said it protects politicians’ speech because their speech deserves attention and is already the most scrutinized speech in the world.

Misleading information about voting disproportionately targets marginalized communities in the U.S., according to Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. “So advertisers need to be asking, is there a risk here or not,” of having their ad run on the social network, he said. Advertisers “aren’t going to be able to say it’s OK to give $3 million to a company that gives African Americans wrong information about polling.”

Media Matters is best known for persuading advertisers to boycott Fox News after sexual harassment allegations were made against host Bill O’Reilly.

Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” lost more than 60 advertisers after the New York Times reported in 2017 that Fox had paid five women $13 million to silence their allegations of sexual harassment or verbal abuse. O’Reilly was fired.

Media Matters has gone after Facebook before, flying a plane over the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters with a banner saying, “Facebook Hearts Right Wing Lies.”

At least two smaller companies have cut Facebook ad spending as a result of how Facebook handled Trump’s posts. Larger advertisers aren’t pulling ads yet.

The coronavirus has turned the advertising market upside down, with 76 percent of companies planning to cut their budgets this year. Many large U.S. advertisers paused their Facebook campaigns until the economy fully reopens, an ad executive told The Information.

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Meanwhile, activists could start pressuring big brands to pull back on their Facebook spending if the company is seen as helping to spread false political and voting information, the executive said anonymously.

Most Facebook advertisers are small and medium-sized businesses that are deeply entrenched in the platform, Carusone said.

“Zuckerberg has come under fire so many times, and I think most clients are focused on other issues right now,” said Brooke Reno, group business director at New York-based media buying agency the Media Kitchen.