Hollywood Stays Away From Facebook Ad Boycott

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LOS ANGELES — More than 1,000 companies have halted their Facebook advertising over the past month as part of a protest over the social network’s handling of hate speech, with most major industries represented in the boycott.

The pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Bayer have joined the anti-Facebook campaign. So have Microsoft and Verizon. Also represented are industries like apparel (Levi Strauss, Eddie Bauer), autos (Ford, Honda), household products (Unilever, Kimberly-Clark) and beverages (Coca-Cola, Starbucks).

But one of Facebook’s most important advertising categories — Hollywood — has been noticeably silent even though stopping hate speech is one of the entertainment industry’s longtime causes. As of Tuesday, only Magnolia Pictures, a small distributor of foreign films and documentaries, and the nonprofit Sesame Street had joined what civil rights groups are calling the #StopHateForProfit boycott.

“Where is Hollywood?” asked Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, during a discussion on July 2 with The Wrap, an entertainment news site. “It’s time. It’s time for them to take a stand. It’s time for them to say that Facebook needs to stop hate for profit.”

Crickets.

“I’m not sure why they are still silent,” Mr. Greenblatt said in an interview. “You’ll have to ask them.”

Netflix, ViacomCBS, Disney, WarnerMedia, Lionsgate, STX and Sony Pictures Entertainment declined to comment for this article or did not respond to queries.

NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, said in a statement: “We are actively engaged in conversations with Facebook across a number of Comcast NBCUniversal businesses to address the use of hate speech and other objectionable content on their platform. Our brands are monitoring the situation, and each is evaluating its next steps, including altering advertising plans, if necessary.”

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Credit…Hunter Kerhart for The New York Times

The Walt Disney Company was Facebook’s No. 1 advertiser from Jan. 1 to June 30, spending an estimated $212 million — more than double No. 2 Procter & Gamble, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics. (Procter & Gamble has not publicly joined the Facebook campaign.) WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Lionsgate ranked among Facebook’s top 15 advertisers during that period.

Hollywood is sitting out the boycott for a simple reason, said Barry Lowenthal, chief executive of Media Kitchen, a media buying agency: “They need Facebook too much and don’t want to make it mad.”

Terry Press, a former president of CBS Films, noted that entertainment companies tended to be allergic to controversy and move slowly even when they wanted to participate. “It’s not surprising that the entertainment industry finds itself behind other giant corporations on this,” Ms. Press said.

A few other industries — banking, news media, travel — are also largely absent from the boycott list.

Senior officials at multiple studios said they believed they could be more effective in pushing Facebook to police hate speech more rigorously by working through back channels. Besides, they said, movie studios are not spending much money on advertising right now because theaters are closed.

A couple of studios said they believed they were already doing enough on the topic of social justice, whether by increasing donations to organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or announcing inclusion-oriented hiring programs.

Other entertainment executives noted that marketing new movies and television shows would be difficult without Facebook, which is both a hammer (huge audience reach) and a scalpel (offering an ability to precisely target consumers). Hollywood’s own advertising channels — for instance, Paramount’s buying time on its corporate sibling CBS to promote a new movie — have become less effective as viewership has eroded.

“You can now get more reach on an Instagram post than through a prime-time cable spot,” Mr. Lowenthal said. Facebook owns Instagram.

Facebook is not a significant buyer of content from studios. Facebook Watch, the company’s original video service, scaled back its scripted efforts this year by canceling shows like “Sorry for Your Loss,” starring Elizabeth Olsen.

But Hollywood has another self-protective reason to avoid the boycott: Most entertainment companies sell advertising on their own platforms and — especially amid a recession — cannot afford to do anything that might put their own businesses at risk. In other words, it is not in their best interest to show how effective an advertiser action might be in forcing change.

Facebook has defended its policies while also vowing to do a better job of combating racism and misinformation. “We know we will be judged by our actions, not by our words, and are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement,” Facebook said in a statement last week, referring to organizations behind the #StopHateForProfit campaign.

But leaders of the boycott have been unsatisfied.

“They have had our demands for years, and yet it is abundantly clear that they are not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a civil rights group, said after meeting with Facebook leaders last week.

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