[pictured above: my son and I on our first (and favorite) hike together: Devil’s Head Lookout Tower]
On Tuesday October 20 th , 2020 I dropped off my ballot for the 2020 election after dropping my son off at school. I went home and made a video about how I’d just voted and wanted to offer some breath and meditation classes for the next three weeks to help my community get through the rest of the election season. I uploaded the video to my Facebook and Instagram accounts at the same time. A couple hours later my Facebook account was disabled, with no warning, no explanation, and no ability to request a review. Elizabeth Carpenter, fellow contributor to this blog and developer of this site, also had the same thing happen to her account. We are both single mothers with personal Facebook accounts older than our children. And our children’s lives have been documented entirely on the social media platform in order to privately share with close friends and family members. Extraordinarily little of that content was saved anywhere outside of Facebook. It’s possible that our FB page promoting this blog site was hacked. It’s also entirely possible that an algorithm glitched. Or Facebook decided that stating I voted and making references to white privilege and cultural appropriation counted as hate speech. It’s been one week. We can’t get in touch with anyone at Facebook to receive an explanation or find an option to retrieve our data.
This same week, as part of a marketing course for my Outdoor Industry MBA program, a professor asked for an assessment of whether or not the #StopHateForProfit campaign worked and if participating in the Facebook Boycott was a good business decision for the companies that did. The campaign was started by the NAACP and ADL in June and asked businesses to suspend advertising on Facebook’s services for the month of July (Bostwick, 2020). The thought behind the boycott was that if companies pulled their funding to Facebook by pulling their advertising revenue, the social media company would have to take into consideration the values that it is promoting. “Nearly all of Facebook’s roughly $70 billion in annual revenue last year came from advertising dollars” (Fung, 2020).
While more than a thousand different companies participated in the boycott, there’s a pool of between 8 and 9 million Facebook advertisers (Bain, 2020 & Hsu, 2020). The top 100 spenders for Facebook advertising spent only 12% less in July 2020 than in the previous year. Of those 100 top spenders, only 9 of those companies had formally announced their participation in the boycott (Hsu, 2020).
Additionally, based on the stock market report for Facebook Inc. from the Wall Street Journal, it appears that there was barely an impact during the month of July.
“The highest-spending 100 brands accounted for $4.2 billion in Facebook advertising last year, according to Pathmatics data, or about 6% of the platform's ad revenue . . . Much of the rest of Facebook's ad revenue comes from small and medium-sized businesses, ad executives say” (Fung, 2020).
So, if the largest Outdoor brands banding together with over a thousand different companies to boycott the platform for a month couldn’t make more than a dent in Facebook’s revenue, what can? Small or medium sized businesses (such all the users in the single-mom entrepreneurs FB group I used to be a part of) are more dependent on the revenue generated by Facebook ads. Meanwhile, Facebook continues “investing in artificial intelligence to find and crack down on harmful content” (Fung, 2020). It’s also worth noting that “Facebook is less susceptible to outside pressure than most businesses, experts say. It's led by a CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who exercises complete voting control over the company and can't be removed by shareholders” (Fung, 2020).
Is this artificial intelligence even capable of determining what constitutes harmful content? I mean, clearly my actions of meditating on the steps of the US Capital building during the Women’s March in 2017 and playing music at a Violin Vigil in Aurora Civic Center park last summer identify me as a non- violent social justice advocate.
I have no answers as to why our accounts were disabled. I do, however, think that the value of my son’s childhood memories is not up for academic, theoretical debate. We’re talking about photos from the day he was born, the day I brought him home from the hospital, every Christmas photo, first days of school from pre-K through 3 rd grade, his first baseball game, and every family vacation we’ve ever taken—including our trip to Yellowstone National Park.
If a social media platform has the ability to permanently, irreversibly disable personal and business accounts with no reason, no explanation, and no recourse—and large company’s attempts to fight back have little to no impact, then we have a much bigger problem. If protecting democracy and civil rights isn’t part of “good business,” then we need to change the way we do business, because I’m fairly sure that 100% of every company’s target market consists of human beings.
You can watch the video I uploaded on my Instagram account and decide for yourself if you think it violated Facebook's Community Standards egregiously enough to warrant both of our accounts and all of our related pages being disabled with no option for appeal (though the fact that my IG account is active and intact is even further confounding). If you still have an active Facebook account, I highly recommend following these instructions to back up your data. I also recommend visiting the Center for Humane Technology for more ideas on what actions can be taken as individuals and organizations. Finally, if you feel as restricted and stressed out about this topic as I do, feel free to sign up for some radically, dangerous breath and meditation classes.