As Clayton Christensen pointed out, it’s rare for an incumbent business to see real change coming. When they do, it’s almost impossible for them to adjust their business model and culture quickly enough to face the challenge effectively. More than 1000 advertisers have joined July’s Facebook boycott. This is not the first campaign to “fix” Facebook, and it won’t be the last. But this time, something has shifted.

Facebook has 2.6 billion monthly active users. If it were a country, it would be the largest in the world. Even critics argue that it’s too big to fail. But I get the feeling that the argument now isn’t so much about Facebook changing its policies, structure and culture, but the rest of us simply moving on.

We’re over it

July’s Facebook boycott was organised by Stop Hate for Profit to put pressure on the social network to do more to fight hate speech. According to Fortune magazine, ninety of Facebook’s top 500 advertisers have participated in the boycott, with Microsoft, Samsung, Starbucks and Wells Fargo being the brands to cut the largest amounts of advertising spend. While Fortune reports that the boycott is estimated to have led to around £160 million in lost ad revenue, it’s only a slither of Facebook’s estimated £56 billion a year.

But Stephan Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers, says the boycott is a turning point: “I don’t see those big brands come back if there hasn’t been structural change…That’s my take on the basis of my conversations with them.” Meanwhile, in marketing bible The Drum, Samuel Scott argues that this time is different, adding a list of further actions for purpose-driven brands to take.

I think Facebook is on its way to join MySpace in the graveyard of social media also-rans.

Here are five reasons why

  1. The rise of the conscious consumer. There’s a whole lot of wokeness going on. And Facebook isn’t playing to that audience.
  2. Social media today looks like TikTok. It’s exciting, unexpected and highly visual. It’s about shared emotions and a light touch. It’s not a news website dominated by your Brexit-y uncle, or anti-semitic rants from someone you knew at school.
  3. Even Facebook’s core demographic – older than other social networks – is losing interest. While young people are clearly happier on TikTok or Snapchat, it’s equally bad for Facebook that older, wealthier users are turning away. A series of scandals and negative news coverage has eroded the appeal of a once attractive brand.
  4. User experience. Facebook has become like a needy friend, serving up irrelevant “notifications”, cookie cutter videos of your most meaningful friendships and often tone deaf “Facebook memories”.
  5. Leadership. CEO Mark Zuckerberg simply doesn’t get it. This boycott is not a one-off crisis, but the latest in a series of scandals and controversies. And despite all of them, Zuckerberg appears complacent. In a transcript published by The Information, he told employees at a video town hall that “All these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough…we’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue or to any percent of our revenue.” Employee Max Wang recently posted a damning video posted to YouTube. In it, he accuses Mark Zuckerberg of “gaslighting” employees, saying the company is “trapped in [an] ideology of free expression”.

What happens next?

It looks like many advertisers are choosing to continue their Facebook boycott beyond July. Despite the promised establishment of a new independent oversight board, it seems increasingly unlikely that Zuckerberg will be able to turn this particular ocean liner around. Whatever he does, it could well be too little, too late.

After years of inaction, other social networks have begun to step up. Twitter is now adding fact-check alerts or warnings to Donald Trump’s more offensive tweets, Reddit has deleted around 2,000 forums due to offensive hate speech. Gaming network Twitch suspended Donald Trump’s official account for “hateful conduct”.  And YouTube has banned several channels belonging to prominent white supremacists.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg meets with Trump and knocks Twitter on Fox News. A recent civil rights audit was highly critical of Facebook. And although Facebook announced on 16 July that it would add voting information labels to all US election related posts, and promised last week that it will look into whether or not its algorithms are racially biased, these moves seem highly reactive from a company that’s now on the back foot.

The idea that Facebook is toxic is gaining ground culturally. Admittedly, we still lack an alternative, but that time will come. This month’s Facebook boycott has brought it a whole lot closer.

Big Brother is watching us. He wants to play nicely

Photo: Joe Flood via Flickr