Nima Gardideh, the co-founder of a digital advertising agency, has encouraged his clients to hold back millions in advertising dollars from Facebook.
It struck him as “borderline tone-deaf” to run ads on social media platforms when they were being used to organize protests against racism and police brutality, he said. And the money spent on ads might have been wasted, since the usual concerns of consumers seemed not to amount to much at a historic moment.
But there was something else weighing on his mind: Facebook’s hands-off attitude toward President Trump’s aggressive, misleading posts.
“We harshly disagree with how Facebook has approached this,” said Mr. Gardideh, the co-founder of Pearmill, a New York marketing agency with a dozen clients, mostly tech start-ups. “For the past couple of years, this problem has become bigger and bigger. These massive platforms have to care about free speech issues to some extent, but Facebook is on the extreme end of not caring.”
Unlike Twitter and Snap, which have toughened their stances against Mr. Trump’s online statements that contain misinformation or promote violence, Facebook has held firm on its decision to leave his posts alone. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has defended the policy, despite the resignations of some staff members and public criticism from current and former employees.
In recent days, many companies have cautiously returned to advertising, after having pulled back during the height of the pandemic in the United States. But some have decided not to advertise on Facebook, now that it has become clear that Mr. Zuckerberg will give the president a wide berth.
“I think this is Facebook’s time of reckoning,” said Dave Morgan, the chief executive of Simulmedia, a company that works with advertisers on targeted television advertising. “It may not be immediate or dramatic, but advertisers have given Facebook a lot of passes and now we are hearing they are saying it will be harder to stand back.”
In late May, the social media companies’ dealings with the president diverged. Twitter started fact-checking Mr. Trump, and posted an addendum to a tweet that called for military action against participants in a protest whom Mr. Trump had described as “THUGS.”
“This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence,” the company said in a note attached to Mr. Trump’s statement.
Facebook reacted differently, allowing the same statement to go unflagged.
Around the same time, companies were struggling with how and whether to address the worldwide demonstrations prompted by the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last month in Minneapolis after a white police officer pinned him to the ground. On June 2, in an effort that became known as Blackout Tuesday, many advertisers posted images of black boxes instead of paid ads, a gesture intended to show support for the protests.
“They began to realize that all of their messaging was off-target,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, a former advertising executive who is now an author and marketing adviser.
Facebook generates 98 percent of its revenue through ads. It netted $17.4 billion from advertising in its most recent quarter. The pandemic has hurt advertising sales in general, and some companies are still “incredibly challenged,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for global marketing solutions. Blackout Tuesday “really had a very significant role on our platforms,” Ms. Everson added, with hundreds of companies pausing their spending.
Since then, ad revenue has mostly recovered for the company, she said, although several companies have been slow to return as they adjusted their messaging. Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others each slashed their daily Facebook and Instagram spending by more than $100,000 in early June, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics.
Some smaller advertisers — including authors, therapy providers and payment companies — described their break from Facebook as a protest against the platform and its subsidiaries.
Simris, an algae-growing business in Sweden, wrote in a LinkedIn post that it was “vitally dependent on digital marketing” but unwilling to “continue to enable a sick system with our funds.”
“The current developments have now rendered it morally impossible for us to continue feeding the same hand that complacently offers its services as the major platform for hate-mongering, promotion of violence, and disinformation,” the company wrote.